Walking without a donkey, Travels in Spain – Seville

Seville 14-16.5.17

I travelled to Seville from Madrid by Bla Bla Car with Francisco,

…and arrived rather later than anticipated. For a long time I had planned to start my next walk in Seville and posted on Facebook that I was looking for someone who would like Shiatsu in return for a bed. My kind friend, Gill, put me in touch with Pedro, a fellow Shiatsu practitioner, and he was more than welcoming with his excellent English.

It was good sleeping amongst the healing Chi of his practice room and I was delighted to listen to Jesús’ Cuban guitar for breakfast.

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My tourist day in Seville began when I was dropped off at Plaza de Armas (where you can also find the bus station and super-market), and I started my walk along the River Guadalquivir towards the Mercado (market) Lonja del Barranco in Calle Arjona, next to Puente de Isabel II (one of the many bridges at regular intervals along the waterway).

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The mercado / market
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The Isabel Bridge where I will start the Camino Via de la Plata tomorrow.
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Beautiful Jacaranda trees with their strong purple flowers.

I sauntered past shops with gleaming apricots and sombreros for sale.

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Then continued along the Paseo de Cristóbal Colón with its glorious colours: yellow earth, orange flowers and jade-green river. The subtle-sweet aromas, the sounds of school children, rhythms improvised with plastic bottles and hands making steel pan drum sounds on metal table and chair, with grass cutters in the background reminding me of those along the Brittany coast two days before.

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Coffee in the morning.
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Monument, La Tolerancia by Eduardo Chillida.
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The temperatures were to rise to near tropical within the week.

The architecture is quite different in this south-western corner of Spain. The yellow and white bullfighting stadium, deep pinks and orange of residential apartments are interspersed royal blue shuttered grandiosity. None of your Tobermory pale baby colours as on the Isle of Mull in Scotland.

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Decorative tiles.
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With plenty of statues of bullfighters.

Seville is a gay-friendly and open-minded place, extremely attractive, and full of tourists, artists and university students.

dsc_0184.jpgWhen I am in a city with so many famous sights, too many for a short visit, I have found a way to choose what to do: I get to a corner and I stand still and contemplate. If I like the look of the left-hand street I go there, if right then there. I have been practicing spontaneity and following my interest for many years in my Shiatsu sessions. Here my eyes draw me to a baroque exterior in the sunshine: a balustrade above oval windows, above decorated towers, beside naked torsos at the Instituto Geográfico y Estadístico in the Plaza Nueva next to the Plaza de San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the unexpected details which caught my eye: the Banco de España (Bank of Spain) has cuboid trees; horses and carts sport shiny yellow wheels; while a woman squatted to take photos.

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There was more English spoken around me than I had heard in weeks. It was swelteringly hot so that I was glad to get into the cool church.

 

 

 

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The famous Puerta del Perdon .

 

 

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Saint Cristobel.
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The Cathedral where I got my credential and the first stamp for my walk from the guide at the door without having to queue.

If you get the chance to visit, check out the solid silver altar piece in the Cathedral, the flying angels holding lamps, pink marble, and, when I was there, spray after spray of white chrysanthemums and fragrant lillies. Outside, a young boy kindly put his arm around his brother and comforted him – there seemed to be good feeling everywhere.

I found myself back at the river: two men were lounging in a huge pedalo-type river craft made of white fibreglass;
a school girl on a bike was dressed in a burgundy and black kilt with matching socks; there were rows of municipal bicycles I had only previously seen in London; the green men on the road crossing signs walk! and three boys in swimming trunks took it in turns to jump off into the river. It was already 38 degrees. In fact for a moment I rather worried for myself for the walk tomorrow.

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Big boats acting as restaurants line the opposite side along where I will walk when I start my Camino the next morning.

That evening we went to a concert in the Moroccan Pavillion, from the Expo in 1992. It has a highly decorated interior and glows in the evening.

 

 

There was tango, piano and singing (mostly in English from British stage shows – apparently very popular) in shorts and T-shirt, and we sipped free beer and ate peanuts. Later we drove through the gloriously illuminated city and enjoyed tapas in the slight breeze – welcome at midnight sitting outside!

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Without a guide book, I had had to locate the setting-off place for the next leg of my travels through Spain on my own. Happily I had found it by chance at the very beginning of the day, so after a few hours of sleep I knew where to start.

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Walking without a donkey – Travels in Spain, Zaragoza

Zaragoza 12-14.5.17

Zaragotha, home to an Origami Museum.

What did I do when I arrived in Zaragotha? I was welcomed by my host Yvonne and we went for a drink and something to eat! Whoever said that you cannot be a vegetarian in Spain?

Almond soup – cold. Delicious.
Baobab vegetarian restaurant.
http://www.restaurantebaobab.com/
View from the balcony of the flat where I stayed.

When I announced I was visiting Zaragoza, I was often asked why, even by people who live there! I think there is a popular idea that it is a predominantly industrial city and an army base. But, I can tell you that it is worth seeing.

The main square, Plaza del Pilar, is enormous, with not one but two cathedrals: the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a very old church inside a less old, bigger one; and the Seo, Cathedral of the Saviour (Catedral del Salvador) with its spectacular tapestries.

Basilica.
Bas-reliefs on the outside walls of the Basilica.
The Spanish coup of July 1936 fractured the Spanish Republican Armed Forces and marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
Down one end are the fountains backed by an expansive metal plate down which the water runs when it is on.
Catedral Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
Tradition holds that on 2 January 40 AD, while Saint James was deep in prayer by the banks of the Ebro, the Mother of God (Nuestra Señora) appeared, gave him a column of jasper and instructed him to build a church in her honor.
Statues outside by Pablo Serrano.
Highly Baroque.
Vaulted ceilings.

Romanesque, Gothic and many other styles can be seen in this venerated place.
Francisco Goya and his relatives decorated the ceilings.
Floor decoration.

Confirmation taking place so we could not view the main altar.

In the past, the two cathedrals vied with each other to display the most impressive riches, but the Basilica is the only one with a canon ball hole in its front wall. As far as the parishioners are concerned it was an act of God that it did not explode when it came through during the civil war.

The Seo.
Also known as the Cathedral of the Saviour (del Salvador).
Or Parroquial de la Seo.
With its wonderful Moorish decoration.
Stunning tapestries upstairs – many are 15th century, stolen from Belgium.

Rooms of glorious tapestries.
Really ancient, fascinating scenes telling intricate stories with divers characters.

When I was in Normandy I met a paper sculptor and he told me I must go and see the Origami Museum in Zaragotha. But where was it? My hosts who had lived there for years did not know.

Ah, there – this advert for it was right beside us! See below.
There are modern pillars advertising the city and its other sights.

There are fountains, sculptures, the tourist information, exhibitions,  and plenty of space to sit or run around.

Large groups of immaculately dressed families celebrating their children’s the first communion.

That place alone takes a day or more to view properly.

Origami sculpture.
Goya himself, a famous inhabitant.

Within 5 minutes walk from there are ancient remains to be seen – an amphitheatre and clearly excavated dwellings.

There are beautiful lanes, squares and courtyards with cafes in. We had paella sitting outside in the warm shade for lunch.

Cafe y mirador del Museo (museum).
With palm trees.
Candy yellow and pink houses.
Archways leading to new delights.
You could spend dappled days wandering and stopping for drinks.

Watch other people strolling – you might not be able to see the pom poms on the little boy’s socks.
Yvonne and Danny.

Anywhere where music is played in the multi-storey car park as well as the cathedral is OK with me.

Here are some more of the origami and paper exhibits.

Made by Beata Kupczak, Poland.

Thanks to obliging Yvonne, who drove at top speed to catch the security guard before he closed the museum, I reclaimed my mobile phone with its 1000s of photos!

Other highlights included an evening walk along the Ebro, being shown the  contemporary architecture of the 2008 Expo with the Pabellón Puente bridge designed by Zaha Hadid, and the Aragon Pavillion with its effect of woven glass panels. (No photos because I had not got my phone back at this time).

I extend my thanks for the hospitality, keen conversation, and sightseeing I received in this impressive city.

The next day I took a Bla Bla Car along the autovia del Nordeste (A2) between Zaragoza and Madrid, passing by Guadalajara and the Panteón de la Duquesa de Sevillano. Knowing it was the Fiesta San Isidro that day, the biggest and best of the year, and with extra unexpected time in Madrid, I made the mistake of attempting to walk from Chamartín to Atocha stations to try and see the street celebrations. Well, I had been in the car for a long time already, and was going to be journeying a further 5 hours to Seville later the same day so I figured I could stretch my legs! Readers, do not try it – it is mostly motorway and you cannot walk on the motorway, so I took a detour and somehow managed to get lost (in immense heat, on a Sunday afternoon) in an industrial estate. Oh dear, I had to retrace my steps and take the metro. It was a disaster and I did not get to see any of the carnival.

After the most troublesome pick-up I have had with Bla Bla Car, I eventually managed to get my lift. The driver was a wheelchair using, cannabis-smoking athlete with a wicked sense of humour. He played me Luis Fonsi’s raunchy Latino ‘Despacito ft.’ and we translated from the Spanish to English, line by line, all the way to Seville, arriving much later than planned, and being met by the patient Pedro. See next blog – Seville.

Origami Museum website http://www.emoz.es/language/en/

 

Walking without a donkey – Travels in France/Spain 10

Pontorson 10.5.17; Brittany circular, coastal walk / ‘les balades’ (rambles) / ‘les randonnées’ (hikes) – La Bernière to Port de Pornic 11.5.17, both France.

Journey via Bla Bla Car to Zaragoza, Spain 12.5.17.

Youth hostel, Pontarson, Normandy, France.

On the Camino Francés in Spain, the hostels are where you meet other backpackers and exchange tales. Up until today, I had not encountered anyone in France, but the two women I had seen the previous night were breakfasting when I got down to the youth hostel kitchen. After being initially engaged in (French) conversation with a rather interested man who told me he did all sorts of work, anything he was asked to do, and then kissed me goodbye (yes, the dangers of being a single female traveller!), I was invited to sit with them for a while. They asked me what I was up to and after explaining, I was enthusiastically given a piece of paper by Lysiane, with her name and address on it, and told that if I ever visited Brussels I could stay with her in return for Shiatsu. Almost everyone I meet and talk to knows what Shiatsu is and likes it; it really is quite notable compared with the UK.

Station, Pontorson from where I got my first and only train during this month. Goodbye Normandy!

Myself and a number of others arrived at the station before it opened. It was unclear to us all how we should get tickets and where to go, until a brusque woman came to open up. We waited in the gorgeous sun before realising we needed to cross the tracks for the stopping train to Rennes which I had booked online the day before. A Japanese couple regaled us, as we waited, with a comparison between the efficiency of French signposting and the contrasting confusion in Britain.

My day’s walk on the Brittany coast began in the rain at La Bernière-en-Retz, a small town where a lot of street work was being carried out, but that was otherwise deserted. The sea was well out, revealing broad sands with low stone walls. I felt immensely light-hearted, as happy as I was when walking in northern Spain in the  Autumn of 2016.

The path was easy to find and varied. Sometimes it was on cliffs, at others beside dwellings. Always there was the expansive view of the water, with miniscule collectors of seafish in the distance. After a while there was a series of platforms from which hung voluminous lift-nets. I was told that when the tide is in, these fill with fish.  These traditional ‘carrelets’ are expensive apparently, but bring high yields and are found all along this coast.

‘les carrelets’c/o Olivier on Pinterest

The low stone walls are also demarcations related to fishing, left over from many years ago, and easily seen at certain times of the day.

Elegant hotels and old people’s homes line parts of the shore.

Grassy paths wound up and over the rocks, seagulls shrieked, and the fresh breeze bought welcome fragrances of the cypress trees.

Not a cypress.

Picnic lunch was taken (illegally, it transpired) under ancient stones to shelter from the wet.

Dolmen de la Joselière.

Port de Pornic with its gentle harbour, silver grey turrets, and small yachts came as a surprise. Rather quaint and sophisticated by turns, it is quite a centre but I did not investigate. Instead, here I turned and headed back the way I had come, stopping to divest myself of waterproof trousers as the sun started to show itself, seeing things from back-to-front and in a different light, literally.

The next day I took a Bla Bla Car from Bordeaux, via Bayonne, Irun, and Pamplona to Zaragoza to stay with the genial Yvonne.

Bordeaux station. France.
I needed a brandy while waiting in the extreme heat of midday.

Bla Bla Car is generally unknown in the UK. It is a fantastic system, originally set up so that someone who is making a long-distance journey has company while they drive. Nowadays some complain that it has become a sort of glorified taxi service, but on the whole I found it to be a social thing.

On the way.

It operates in France and Spain, and there is a website where you search for the setting-off point and destination, and then identify who you might like to go with. Like air bnb, the drivers are vetted and reviewed, and you can guarantee that the cost is less than the cheapest mode of public transport for that same journey. Sometimes the driver reserves the right to choose, and although you have paid (I used PayPal for safety), you can be rejected, and then the fee is repaid immediately.

In fact, it was often tricky to find a train or bus which goes went a to b at the times I was searching, whereas it was always possible to find someone who was driving, once you got the hang of the site. And of course I met fascinating people. On the first leg, from Bordeaux to Bayonne, I sat in the back with a young woman who told me all about her life, parents, health and loves, showing me photos and shedding a tear now and then.

Bayonne station, France. Most of the Bla Bla Car pick-ups happen at well known sites.
Passing through Irun on the mountainous border.
Massive trucks doing paperwork.

At Pamplona  we said good luck to two gentlemen who had both injured themselves on the Camino, been home to recover, and were re-joining it there. Then Charles, the car owner, and I made the final leg to Zaragoza, arriving at the radio station with messages flying between myself, my expectant host, and the driver. I have found all the drivers this month to be courteous and obliging. It was good that I had my daughter’s old Nokia with a topped-up Spanish SIM in it as we were late and so I was able to communicate by text and phone.

I had been asked several times why I was bothering to go to Zaragoza. It seems to have a poor reputation with tourists as a predominantly industrial city. My reasons for going: Yvonne kindly invited me when I met her at her father’s funeral and that was my plan – if I am invited somewhere I go, that’s how I choose between all the possible amazing places in Spain. Result: it was a fascinating and enjoyable place to visit, made considerably better I am sure by being shown around and treated like a queen by a resident!

 

 

 

 

 

Walking without a donkey: Travels in France 9

Bas-Courtils to Mont Saint-Michel to Pontorson 9.5.17.

In this part of France I would suggest that it’s always better to go by the randonnées, Sentier de Littoral (coastal path), than by the road, as there are rarely pavements.

I left Bas-Courtils at 8am on a gloriously sunny morn. Beside the sea, the land stretches level affording a distant, nearly unbroken view.

The very long line of sheep is in the background of this photo (as close as I could get) but if you can enlarge it you will see -it’s amazing.

What a racket! Sheep: many, one after the other, having been let out (perhaps after the winter?) moving slowly in single file across the field, over the grey clay. A female and her lamb were leading, with not a human in sight, and yet they were reminiscent of the group of us who crossed the bay yesterday, though we did follow a guide.

Unlike the walks I had been making in the days preceding this, the path crossed numerous obstacles. To be honest it was a trial to have to climb and clamber over fences with a huge backpack. What with that, gates which do not open, and crossing deep, wet grassy fields, well, really this way is not pilgrim-friendly.

Thank goodness it was so very beautiful.


Mont Saint-Michel is clear in the distance. My human eye (rather than the camera) can see the shuttle buses, like black and white caterpillars on the horizon, the place I walked along 14 hours earlier. They are in contrast to the luminous spring green of the fields.

It is cold, exposed like yesterday, but still I have bare arms. I did not even think about it. It was more that I moved instinctively towards the Mount.

I crossed rivers by planks, sidled round deep pools, and struggled to follow the way which did not seem clear to me.

Another surge of black-headed sheep ma maaa-ed their way from their farm onto the plains.

I arrived at the M S-M service buildings: restaurants, shops (though I followed the signs and found none),  toilets (equally hard to locate), and so on. And then having completed the ‘Chemin de la Baie’ I launched straight, alongside the River Cuesnon, a new ‘randonnée’ in the direction of Pontorson.


After the hubbub of the tourists, the peace of the river was potent. Birds quietly mentioned, incongruous chariots raced silently round the track nearby, dogs were carried patiently in the backpacks of two cyclists, and just me making my way along a hard path beside a swollen river with butterflies blue.


I was continuing to take care of the way I walked, the parts of my feet on which the weight landed, and minute details of my posture. This walking provides ample time to pay attention to long-practiced bad habits.

More glorious weather.

Hush reeds in the wind, like witches whispering. It was a very short 10 kms to the next town, so I gave in and lay down, with my mind all but clear and just the sensation of the sun on my back.

An ant’s view.

My feet were throbbing, my ankles had felt quite unpleasant for a stretch. Now I listened lazily to the ducks, the farm machinery moaning, and felt the grass dampen me. Seed pods sailed down and piqued my thigh.  I was not exactly pushing myself. There was no need to be in Pontorson before 5pm when the youth hostel opened.

Random thoughts passed through me: When you wait, you see more around you. There was no signal so no sending or receiving. It was the hottest day so far, and I needed a hat and sunglasses for the first time!

There was nothing to do when I arrived at 1.30 – all was closed. So I had a peaceful beer and sat in the main square opposite the Hôtel de Ville. It is a comprehensive town with a thoroughly helpful tourist information: there was free wifi where I could wait as long as I wanted in order to book trains and send messages. The only down-side were two men who would not leave me alone as I picnicked so I had to move on.

Old places with character.
Smart town houses.
Eglise Notre Dame

It was 22 degrees. I was impressed by the pharmacy because it sold herbs and homeopathy too. I was surprised by conversations in English at the next table. In fact it took me a while to realise, while I sat and wrote, that it was the English language I was hearing; about dogs and living here in Normandy; believe me, it was about the M25!

Handsome youth hostel.

There were a couple of women with rucksacks at the hostel: the first time I had seen other trekkers since I started walking. They did not stop and exchange despite my smile. The very young man in charge of the hostel was welcoming and helpful. All was clean, and I had a room with bunks to myself and space to do my t’ai chi.

 

Walking without a donkey – Travels in France 8

Genêts to Mont Saint-Michel (13 kms across the sand) to Bas-Courtils 8.5.17

‘As I left home that morning and walked away from the sleeping village, it never occurred to me that others had done this before me.’ Laurie Lee, London Road chapter.

Yes, me too! Several people had recently enquired, on hearing I was going to visit Mont Saint-Michel, if I was planning to walk or not. It is an island in the bay which forms a maritime corner of southern Normandy. I had replied that I was walking around the coast and crossing the boardwalk to get there from the south. Until, that is, I realised what they meant: these people had already been to the Mount before me and they had crossed the sands on foot from Genêts. Then I knew that was what I had to do this bank holiday Monday.

The day began with 25 minutes of fast walking from the youth hostel to the set-off place. (Note: If you want to do this too, and I highly recommend that you do, and if you are not just making a day-trip from home, you must book accommodation in advance (see below)). It was the track I would have taken last night had I not been distracted by the beach and tiredness, and consequently missed the markers. I rushed cross-country, through soft grass and pale powdery sand, as the day heated up. As always, everyone was really helpful, and I made it just in time.

It is impossible to make the journey to the isle from the east without a guide as the sands are treacherous and the tide must be at the right turn. There are two companies which offer to take you as part of a group (see below for details), and it was busy, busy, busy, possibly the busiest day of the year. As a result there were groups leaving every 30 minutes or so, and I had to wait. No problem, I whiled away the time in a cafe with wifi and the most generous waitress. I know I have ‘brass neck’, but it comes in useful in certain situations, such as when you need to send a well-translated message in French but do not know how to do it yourself

I watched the others who were massing: men, women and children; old and young; some who had clearly been many times before. I was the only one with a ‘serious’ rucksack (by which I mean I had clothes, sleeping bag, cooking utensils etc on my back – stuff for a month’s travelling), and I too removed my footwear, dangling them from a strap so I had both hands to steady myself as we negotiated the sinking sands.

What a wonderful and moving experience! Layers of time seemed to concertina, and I felt as if I was simultaneously myself and a medieval pilgrim, arriving at last from afar, at the culmination of an arduous journey and full of spiritual expectation.

Trekking across the sands like that takes two and a half hours. Be prepared for cold feet, lots of mud, and finding yourself in seawater to mid calf or knees (depending on the weight of what you are carrying).

There is a large rock, very similar to Bass Rock off the coast of East Lothian in Scotland, called La Roche Tombelaine, which you stop at on the way. The guide gives continuous commentary (in French) about the fascinating history and wild-life, together with stories galore.

According to wikipedia, the name Tombelaine means “the tomb of Hélène”, from a princess named Hélène, daughter of King Hoël, said to have been buried on the rock.

In 1423, Tombelaine was taken over by the English because it was close enough from which to attack the Mount. Luckily it was unsuccessful. In actual fact, no-one has managed to damage M S-M, not during the war, before, or since, so it is easy to understand why some Normandy folk believe it has divine protection.

As we got closer and closer, the grandeur, the sheer size of the Abbey on top of such a small base, was awe inspiring.

The Mount is made of granite, like our own Aberdeen, from the nearby Chausey islands. Rising 80 metres above sea level, it was quite some task, in the past, to bring the rocks up.

 

Many ‘workers’ trod this wheel to do the job of raising food, tools and building materials in 1880.

When I arrived, there were long queues for the foot fountains for washing so I did not bother, and I had to pay to get into the toilet. Then the woman in the tourist office told me I would not be allowed into the Abbey with my back pack due to terrorist threats. I reckoned differently, not having come all this way on foot, with this weight, only to be refused admittance. Barefoot, I continued my winding way up the back street to avoid the crowds.

Today I made an exception to my own rule and bought a ticket. I do not usually pay to go into places because I do not have the money for the expense, and because it encourages me to go to different venues and see things from different angles.  But I knew I needed to go into this one, and I discovered later that the entrance ticket hall was the place the very poor pilgrims of the past were received to be given alms and admitted for a blessing. If I did indeed come here in a previous life, I was surely one of this group.

The almonry, now ticket hall, once the lowly reception for the poorest.
Lofty ceilings and slithers of windows split the light into holy shafts.

We waited for our English speaking guide (he was very entertaining and knowledgeable) on the terrace before entering. As it turned out, no-one looked twice at my pack so I did not have to plead or prostrate myself to be let in. Once again my age, sex, and perhaps skin colour seemed to be a bonus. It was well worth it, but a long tour. I left after 2 hours because I was very cold and getting tired carrying the weighty luggage around with me, but it was still going strong when I peeled away.

There is so much to say about this place, and many photographs available elsewhere. I listened and looked at chamber after chamber, conscious of the cold stone under my soles and imagining myself as one of the nuns he was describing, silent and worshipping through the ages.

The cloisters were being rennovated so I had to take this through the railings.

I was moved by the dark, Romanesque Crypt of St Martin with its eight pillars where sinners awaited sentencing;

And fully engaged by the tale of a 1000 years of construction stimulated apparently, originally, by Saint Michael (as in the archangel) speaking not once, but twice to Aubert, Bishop of nearby Avranches, before he took heed and started construction; and, finally, with the building of the Gothic-style choir (chancel).

Dining Hall where the richest visitors were entertained by the Abbot.

It was sumptuously hot once outside again, and I wound my way down between souvenir shops and restaurants, sampling a small red wine to warm my cockles. There I spied a picture of a man on a donkey, the grandfather of the owner, held up by his son.

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A garden hidden behind an almost solid gate (did not stop me).
Great views from high up.

By the time I walked out towards the northern coast of Brittany, under a baking sun and along the sun-bleached wooden walk-way, I was not a little dazed by the special energy of the place.

Dazed and a bit tilted.
Still very low tide. We were advised to come back again when the sea is surrounding the Mount – it only happens twice a year.
You can not tell from this, but the wind is getting up.

I found my way to the bus-stop, ate a snack while I waited, sailed eastwards right through Bas-Courtils, making a mental note that there was somewhere I might eat later, and alighting some 5 kms further on in Courtils, not knowing they were two different villages with almost identical names.

When you have been walking and walking for days, and then you get into a vehicle, it seems very, very fast and rather unnerving.

I had booked a bed, but when I went into the first shop I could find to get wifi so I could look on my phone for the address, I realised I did not have it. I started to panic (I rarely worry when I am away walking, but have noticed that it can happen when I am tired). The kind proprietress came to help and suggested I look on my list of received calls from 2 days ago. That way I managed to phone and get the address, only to then discover my mistake. Of course, I planned to walk, but no, the same woman insisted that she take me back there in her car – what a sweetie, such kindness.

Gîtes d’Etape (sort of travellers hostel), Bas-Courtils.
 

A double bed, in fact the entire place, all to myself for 11 euros (no breakfast but a place to hang my washing).

I have discovered that I am the sort of person who wants to know why things happen. Walking has taught me that when I pay attention, if I am very quiet inside, and I listen in a very relaxed way, the reason for everything is simply there. But it does require me to be calm, to really stay in this exact moment. It means that the anxious parts must go to the back, and trust or acceptance must be in the foreground. (Although trusting can be a conscious act, and this other thing simply happens while you are living.) Perhaps it is an undoing rather than a doing. Undoing the learned concern, questioning, and fearing.

 

I could still see the Mount from where I stayed the night, almost the same size as it was on another horizon when I left earlier that morning (see photo above).

It is proven to me by a tiny thing like forgetting to eat the orange and discovering it days later when there’s nothing else except hunger; larger things, such as not planning accommodation and then it rains so you could not have walked anyway; and even larger things, where you meet the right person at the right time, and although it can seem completely unfathomable then, it results in a major life change. That phrase comes to me: ‘mine is not to question why’.

A place of pilgrimage, linking Mont Saint-Michel to Santiago de Compostelle where I visited in late 2016, with the coquille Saint Jaques (shell of St James).

That night I felt blessed. Truly.

I stayed at the youth hostel in Genêts on the mainland (http://www.hifrance.org/auberge-de-jeunesse/genets–baie-mont-st-michel.html). You may be able to book there at the last minute if it is not a bank holiday or high season, but if you want to stay on the Mount (it is an island), you definitely have to plan ahead as it is one of the most popular visitor attractions in France.

La Manche tourist site (English language version) with details of walks, maps etc.  http://www.manche-tourism.com/gr223-coastal-path

One company with whom you can walk across the bay. Cost: 7 euros one-way (you can walk back (or go by bus, or in a horse and cart) via another route). You can also go and return in one day, with time there to sight-see. And there are other alternatives.  https://www.decouvertebaie.com/42-traversees-traditionnelles-traditionnelle–depart-genets-point-a.html

Mont Saint-Michel tourist site http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/index.htm?lang=en

Walking without a donkey – Travels in France 7

Granville to Genêts, Normandy coastal walk GR223. 7.5.17.

1.5 days walking. The longest walk at 9.5 hours and more climbing than any other étape (stage). 40kms

Leaving Granville just as it was getting light.
Looking back towards the town.
Deserted beach.
See how the colours start to appear with the sun.

 

Banks of soft cow parsley are dropping with dew.

My last walk was in Spain at harvest. Now it is spring, and time for sowing.

Seed drill in the distance.
There are maps like this all along the way. Allows you to get your bearings.

I pass through the coastal edges of villages and along promenades, with a wide range of fresh-air art and information points. Of course I am not 19 years old as Laurie Lee was, but this part of ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ resonates with me. I am lucky not to have back ache when I walk, only tired feet after a while: ‘The next day, getting back onto the London road, I forgot everything but the way ahead. I walked steadily, effortlessly, hour after hour in a kind of swinging, weightless realm. I was at that age which feels neither strain nor friction, when the body burns magic fuels, so that it seems to glide in warm air, about a foot off the ground, smoothly obeying its intuitions. Even exhaustion, when it came, had a voluptuous quality, and sleep was caressive and deep, like oil.’ Yes, that is exactly what sleep feels like at the end of that sort of a day.

A massive deck chair – part of a children’s playground.

I was not sure what these were.
One by one along the seashore, 10 paces or so apart.
Then I realise, these are the different stages of marine weather, famous from the Shipping Forecast.

A man in his pyjamas, dressing gown, and slippers assured me there was no bar/câfé in this village at 9.30am. I had no breakfast before I left which was an obstacle – silly -it was too early in the day to be hungry and thirsty.

Pretty place though.
With a building which was not too different from a Kentish oasthouse.

There were more hills and valleys than any of the previous days, and my rucksack was feeling heavy, but I forget that in the lovely countryside. Narrow paths split the greenery, while tough grass and golden gorse wrap around the sharp-edged cliffs.

I briefly ask myself ‘Why come away from home to walk?’ and immediately the answer is clear: because it is so very beautiful and peaceful.

There is a man with two wives and a dozen children, or so I fancy. The kids scrape past me from behind on their bikes and give me a shock. No-one says hello. The bright green ferns with their heads curled over, stand up like meerkats.

Down a picturesque flight of steps I go, into an historic dell. Anyone who does what I do knows that after 4 hours of walking, going downstairs is hard work, especially when it is slippy from the previous day’s rain, so I take them gingerly like a toddler.

It was quite magical down in Painter’s Valley,  once a haunt of famous artists. I imagine them with their easels and floppy hats, just glimpsing each other through the foliage, brandishing brushes.

La Vallée des Peintres

OMG! then 200 steps up again, followed by a rest to breathe and pull my socks back up after they had slid into my shoes.

I take two minutes for a pee, drink of water, and view of Jullouville beach with its glorious view of huts and horses. A loud male voice interrupts my musings. Round the corner, it turns out to belong to someone trying to impress the girls.

I ate my banana, bread and chocolate for lunch on a bridge. All filling the air was birdsong. There was sun on my legs, and real contentment, despite the slightly slimy seat.  For a minute I thought I might see Ratty and Mr Toad of Toad Hall.

The cuckoos seem to be following me down the coast: birds which sleep in someone else’s nest.

At this stage I am further 3 hours from Genets and I am about level with Bouillon, where I was supposed to be 2 days ago. There are simple roads, simple hedgerows, and I take regular steps, my thoughts rich with the wild flowers.

It is utterly wonderful, my favourite sort of countryside.
Footsore, I remind myself to take it step by step, ‘poco à poco’ so I can manage the distance without injury.

Beach huts behind the brambles.
And a caterpillar nursery which I pointed out to a little girl running ahead of the family, silently, so I didn’t scare her.

Just above my head I spot someone coasting on the wind in a hang glider. I could not tell if it was a man or woman. I watched and watched as s/he hung there, coasting on currents at a gentle pace, and I imagined what that view must be like.

The sweetest smell of earth, grass and  flowers; raggedy white campion and curled up ferns. Runners thanked me as I stood aside to let them pass and was rewarded with a backlash of heady body smell. The slow roller-coaster slalom rocks are ahead of me, the oaks alongside, and hot waves of birds in meadows are on my left.


I reached a high point with more abandoned stone remains and exchanged brief French with a father coming in the opposite direction, who asked, what is the lie of the land beyond? Turns out he had a ‘poussette’, a push chair, with a baby in it. As I walked on I wondered how they had managed that far with either no path at all, or huge rocks to clamber over.

I am high over Carolles-Plage now.

I continued with a light heart. If you look carefully you will see how often nature intertwines plants of contrasting colours.

I take donkeys as a sign that I am on the right track, given the name of my blog.
Reminding me of the Camino. I add a stone in memory of Hugh.

At 2.30 I started to think about a cup of tea again, and St Jean le Thomas was my reward.

A swimming pool to look at.
Tea on the terrace.
And today’s French elections to read about.

Then at 4pm, oh, the first sighting of Mont Saint-Michel in the distance. 
I began to ask ‘How far to Genets?’ which was a mistake. Either my walking pace was slow or they did not really know. It was just frustrating to think ‘just 20 minutes’, only to discover it was actually a full two hours later that I arrived at the Auberge de Jeunesse. I do so by the road from the beach at Bec d’Andaine, even though a kind beach-surfer type stops his car and kindly suggests I take the path. I think I was too tired to risk taking the wrong way. As Laurie Lee puts it, I was walking ‘in a mirage of solitary endurance’ by that time.

Nearly there, non?
Darkling, it was such a relief to arrive at the youth hostel, where I had to book ahead because of the bank holiday weekend. What a great welcome from the guy in charge: amazing service.

I shower, change, wash out my dirties, settle in to my ‘private’ room with wonderful crisply ironed white cotton sheets (as usual I am the only single woman, so I am again lucky with accommodation). And then I walked, well limped a little, into the immensely attractive village. There are streets of brown/grey-stone houses, all with climbers and gardens full of flowers. They have white-rimmed windows with lace curtains, and there are 3 restaurants which all fill up quickly.

The votes are starting to come in, and the man on my right is checking his phone every few minutes, arguing with his wife, and updating the rest of us round the restaurant. It is very tense with folk scared that Madame Le Pen will win, but as the evening goes on Macron seems to be the victor.

Food tastes so delicious after a walk! A very salty, ‘gallette’ (pancake) with chips, salad and cider is 15 euros. Almost all the bars and eateries I have been to have played songs in English. Is it for tourists? I am not sure but this evening I think I was the only non-French speaker.

When I get back I fall into conversation with the host. Inevitably Brexit (so embarrassing), and ‘Don’t you celebrate the end of the war on 8 May?’ I tell him that many of our school children (my daughter and nephew for example) come to Normandy to see the beaches and the mass graves and find it very moving.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee.

Auberge de Jeuness (youth hostel) website: http://www.hifrance.org/auberge-de-jeunesse/genets–baie-mont-st-michel.html