Charenton-le-Pont to Richard-Lenoir métro 5. 5 kms (Charenton-Ecoles metro, Place du Cardinal Lavigerie, Avenue Jean Jaurés, Rue Claude Decaen, Place Félix Eboué, Rue de Reuilly, Rue Faidherbe, Rue Godefroy Caraignac, Square Saint Aboise, Boulevard Voltaire, 11th arrondissement, Richard-Lenoir métro).
Parc Zoologique de Paris.
I was deposited by my bla bla car from Reims in an area I had never previously visited. I decided to walk T the Maria Canal for my Seiki Shiatsu workshop with Catherine Dompas, but I dawdled so much, I had to ake the tube the rest of the way!
Where people live – I have seen this all over London and Paris recently: more people made homeless by the rich-poor divide.
Wherever you go in Paris there’s something lovely to see amidst the blocks of flats, supermarkets and cafés.
Beautiful sun throwing shadows.
Église de Saint-Esprit.
There is a garden in front of the Saint Aboise Church in memory of the Monks of Tibhirine (Algeria). They were horrifically murdered in their Abbey during the Algerian Civil War. A French film was made about it, Of Gods and Men, was awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010.
To get to Richard-Lenoir métro from Boulevard Voltaire you take a left and walk through a public gardens with vines and a playpark.
An impressive floral display for the end of October.
Wu Chi – undifferentiated timelessness, the un-manifest aspect ofthe Tao.In peacock feathers from the garden birds.
I enjoyed teaching an introduction to Chi Gung for a group of Masters students (Greek, Dutch, American) from the Netherlands before I left. Their performances at Thursday’s showcase were stimulating: a two-hander addressing non-binary issues in an appropriately naïve style, and a quirky performed reading reminding me of the toymaker in Copélia.
View from the garden. It was colder in the final days, but I still did T’ai Chi there in the morning sun.
Delicate ivy ‘drawings’ on the wall.
Silver birch bark – surely the origin of the design of camouflage clothing!
Autumn leaf burning by E. I sat and watched the burning embers and the small flames lick as the sky darkened. The fire was still warm in the morning.
The walk back to the station took me past Halloween house decorations, the luminous sumac tree, and a village hall (last time the gate was shut and I couldn’t see in, so this time I crept up and peered in the window – they were all playing cards in there!). Then there were two furry friendly (hungry?) donkeys who I was instructed not to feed, and several people who kindly stopped to offer me a lift, which I declined so I could walk.
The WW1 memorial for the dead soldiers, significant given that the topic of my studies is death.
Strips of roots growing across the bottom of the tree.
A whorl of bark.
Flowers found at ground level on the pavement.
Outside the old school is this lovely sundial with the inscription La grive aux raisins (thrush with grapes is a delicacy and also the name of the local newsletter) andon the gate of the village room.
View from the train to Reims.
Another sundial, a giant one in Reims lit up in the night. Cadrans Solaire de la Marne, also connected to WW1 as the River Marne, site of the battles of 1914 and 1918 where the German advancements were halted.
From the back of a toilet door at Le Maryland bar in Reims – not so very respectful of our monarch!
This bar is near the Cathedral and I do not recommend it as it was full of smokers and smoke, and with men making not so-funny remarks. I didn’t feel comfortable there on my own.
Sculpture by Armelle Blary https://armelleblary.com in a window in Reims – inspired by the work of Louise Bouregeois I would guess.
Les bunnies. At the home of Julie Martin who was my bla bla car driver 10 days before and who kindly invited me to stay on my return. Together with her lovely flatmate, Marie, I was cooked two sorts of crêpes which were delicious.
Many thanks to them for their hopitality. Check out their innovate business: Be Vegetal My Friend which offers all sorts of workshops with plants and flowers, plus you can see Julie demonstrating what she does, and go there to get designs for your wedding or event.
Julie Martin, Be Vegetal My Freind, in her element!
Yesterday I lay down on my back to do my exercises under a tree with my eyes closed. I was focusing on my breath and muscles, moving through my paces. I opened them on hearing a tweet and there, in the spreading branches (don’t they always spread?) and bright leaves, was one, no, two, a whole flock of little birds with long tails bobbing up and down, jutting their tiny heads and flitting fast from place to place. I couldn’t see their backs because I was underneath, but there were hints of pink adding to the brown and beige. They took no notice of me, which was nice.
As I watched, a beastie with many legs crawled up the edge of my arm and onto the top; another one went in and, thankfully, out of my ear; an ant went all round my knee.
When I went to the loo I sprayed soft moss fronds and scratchy bits of autumn twig on the floor!
Later sitting at my desk, writing, the lime greenery was only broken by the odd brown leaf and matching beech nuts opening their hard lips to the air. From the first floor I am half way up where the branches are thinner. It all shivers and sways gently, not much, almost settling, continuing its dialogue with the breeze.
This morning I stood beside another one to do my T’ai Chi. Just as I got to move 134 I found myself back at thirty something so I completed almost a whole second round (140 in total). I got slower and slower. In the fog I saw the tips of my fingers, covered in fine rain, shift in my peripheral vision and I felt myself sink a little.
It’s trunk was very quiet, half in, half out of the ground. I couldn’t see it move although I knew it was, inside. It stood there before I got here of course, and stands there now. I tried to emulate it. I thought of the tree, being in all weathers; watching people, animals and insects coming and going over the years. The wind rustled it. Then did the same to my hair. I stood, learning.
Then I stood still, ‘standing like a tree’ (it’s a chi gung exercise). It was lighter now (approaching 7am). I enjoyed it.
First in shoulder stand and then bottom in the air – the world looked lovely even upside down looking between my legs.
After I gave Shiatsu to a wood worker this morning, I left him on the mat and walked to the window. High on the second floor I was level with the top of the tree and there was a woodpecker. No, really. Right there. Black and white all down its back with a red top knot and knickers. The window was closed, but I saw it noiselessly tapping inbetween tilting its head to the right as if looking to see if anyone was coming.
When I looked back into the room and asked how L was doing, he said “floating” and then there was a wait. From inside himself with his eyes tight shut he added, “my body’s fizzing”.
I didn’t try to take a photo of the woodpecker in case I disturbed it. However this little critter, a ladybird, was on my last piece of apple (from the tree in the garden) when I came back in.
I sit and work in the garden and the hot sun heats my lower back beautifully. I tan.
A peacock feather.
I look up as something thuds. An apple lies beside me. As I watch, whisper of a leaf; an acorn drops. Fruits still red and ripening.
Giving one Shiatsu per day for the community.
I took a walk to the Intermarché/ supermarket on a sunny Sunday.
School and graf / graffiti.
The garden is the best place for writing. The light is inspiring. I caught myself thinking, ‘With this beauty and peacefulness I don’t need to eat’!
The slightly weird grottoes showing above the trees, which catch the morning rays.
After my tour, I sat in the garden as the sky darkened and the moon brightened. The last of the sun illuminated the tops of the birches and their tiny leaves flickered in the wind. The cyprus stood steady, turning a black silhouette before the rest. I watched a plane go past a star – that’s what it looked like.
Then an owl hooted: sometimes singly, followed by silence, then four in a row. Baby blue clouds appeared and a gauze of them passed in front of the orb which altered the light on the lawn.
The sound in the trees kidded my body into thinking it was colder than it was. Still, I pulled my hood over my hat, poked my thumbs through the holes in my sleeves and wormed one hand up the opposite arm. The chickens had been put to bed I realised, and there was no sign of the peacocks. A dog barked. The church bell tolled. I recognised a halloween sky but minus the bats! And I knew there was revellry going on indoors.
The Piano Concerto No. 21, 2nd Movement “Andante” by Mozart plays over and over in my head. I get down to the next chapter.
Oh the Autumn colours please me! As this is farmland, there are sheep, and further along the way, horses too.
With a lot of space to wander and feed. They aren’t fazed by me at all.
One matching chestnut, one dappled grey and one white. I wonder again, do horses (and cows) communicate with each other? Do they vary their behaviour at different times of the day? ‘It’s getting dark guys, let’s have one more meal and then lie down for the night!’
Here are the wide open arable fields where huge spreaders are spraying (just like Kent!). There are almost no flowers or birds as a result of the chemicals. These are recently sown and ploughed fields.
I follow the sign posts and there are also familiar neon arrows at ground level to keep me right – pointers for a run or cross-country cycling no doubt.
I remember the red and white stripes of the French walks I made in Normandy, but as always the entrances and exits for walkers are unusual.
This one was a sort of turnstile of oxydised metal.
I tread quietly. Once I enter the woods, the leaves are falling randomly around me and there is a sweet autumnal leafy smell.
Saw-edged sweet chestnut leaves litter the way, bronze and tan.
Ash and sycamore, acorns in cups, chestnuts in their prickly cases.
There are no fuchsias here like in Ireland, the hedgerows are instead bountiful with clematis, their furry seed heads studded with dark brown cores.
A tweet here and there; a rustling up high; and chirp chirp as a bird darts past.
I pick my way over sandy white soil, and admire the whispy grasses.
Laden with ruddy apples, on a carpet of windfalls.
Downhill, past domestic vines, beehives and allotments with bright flowers, I discover Saint Thomas.
The mairie, town hall
Ceramic flowers on a grave
By the end of the day, the effects of the sun as she brightens the wall and path shining low now behind a telegraph pole or street light so a shadow is thrown.
I am in Champagne country, in Picardy. I took the train from Reims.
The driver waited patiently
The countryside looked amazing through the train window – flat, on into the distance, great expanses of single colours.
I visited the Artisan Baker and then left my rucksack under a tree as the Intermarché was in the opposite direction and I was tired.
I set off with the additional weight of shopping (root veg and cheese) and the first place of note I passed was the library – so surprising to see one in this small but well resourced village. The three women greeted me effusively and showed me around, asking me questions, instructing me on how to use it and proudly showing their collection of English books. Marie T was just leaving, she said, and offered me a most welcome lift, telling me her incredibly sad personal family ‘death’ story on the way. She said that volunteering at the library had been her lifeline and now she was living again.
I am staying in a old convent (where nuns are or were is always a good place for me). It was used as a prison and a hospital in the past by the Americans and the Gestapo so it has a chequered history.
18th October 2018
Early the first morning, the cockerel (that’s him above, all white and fluffy) asks us why we are not outside yet. He is right, it is a gloriously sunny morning. I found a spot between four silver birch trees for t’ai chi.
Later I was greeted by Johnny the gardener and able to keep practicing my French. Everyone is really friendly.
The hives are not producing honey but they have a local source.
Spiralling up to a pool of sunshine I sit and soak it up, starting my writing.
L from New Zealand crouches in a grotto – he wears nail varnish and makes both art as well as shelves – his contribution to the community.
I move as the sun goes behind trees, finding new spots.
Collecting windfalls – brown, yellow and red; prising walnuts from their damp black coats; snapping hazel shells for a breakfast from the garden.
Someone has made apple cake and roasted some chestnuts which I add to my banquet.
We drink tea and eat homemade cakes during the English conversation group that evening. I learn about some of the local people, their jobs, travels and families. We have a laugh.
One and a half hours from Paris Nation by Bla Bla Car, Reims is in champagne country. Not far from the Belgian border, it is just north of the Wildlife Parc Naturel Régional de la Montagne de Reims, west of Metz and south of Lille.
I visited for part of a day and there is undoubtedly more to see. Julie, my driver, deposited me at the Gare / station (there are 2 entrances) and as we bade each other goodbye she kindly invited me to stay with her in a week’s time – she is a couch surfing host.
Opposite the front of the station is a park, Square Colbert, which was completely closed for landscaping, and beyond that, along the Boulevard du Général Leclerc, are the posh hotels. At right angles is Place Drouet d’Erlon, along which you will find eating places galore.
I unfortunately chose poorly (I wanted a place in the sun and a chèvre / goats cheese salad). I do not recommend Café Le Gaulois – the food was very poor quality and over priced.
The Catholic Église Saint-Jacques (Church of the patron Saint of the caminos (walking pathways, les chemins) in Spain (the one who gave Santiago de Compostella its name).
I found the Musée des Beaux-Arts quite by chance.
The next stop had to be the cathedral, stunning against the blue sky.
Round the side of the cathedral the Carnegie Library can be found.
I passed the Opéra, the opera house on my way back to the station.
Camley Street Natural Park; St Pancreas Parish church and gardens; and Goldington Crescent Gardens, Camden London.
As I wander through European cities I find myself attracted time and again to the green spaces. Indeed a few days ago, at the advice of my walking guru, I traversed most of Paris from the Bois (woods) de Boulogne in the far east, to the Pont (bridge) Bercy. I did not manage all the way the the Bois de Vincennes in the west due to time constraints.
Today I arrived off the Eurostar at St Pancreas London, weary in body and of spirit but the sun shone so I googled parks and gardens in the area. I made my way to the St Pancreas gardens, narrowly avoiding being run over by a London taxi due to the lack of a pavement, and came across a community garden I had tried to enter twice before, Camley Street Natural Park – this time it was open.
A slice of sylvan pleasure between railway, canal, and high rise buildings, I discovered that this London Wildlife Trust funded oasis is an ideal place to picnic. Flower beds are constructed from railway sleepers and hunks of stone with bordered pathways lined with bark pieces.
There is an extensive pond with a green membrane pierced by rushes, and a wild flower meadow with rose bay willow herb. It constitutes a very brief, windy way to the other side if you use it, as many suit-clad workers obviously do, as a thoroughfare; but you may also make a circuit and take in the bug-finding, log-pile place; the ‘fairy glade’ (where if I was not mistaken a counselling session was happening); and pond-dipping where a quiet volunteer was carefully cleaning the sign.
There are rustic benches in private nooks, and luckily a few tables in the cafe clearing because it was so densely wooded that there was almost no sun this September noon.
Bring your little ones and they will have hours of down-to-earth fun – inside if the weather is inclement (there is an activities room and exhibition with nests and pine cones) or out, learning about bats and birds, recycling and natural landscaping. I saw willow, birch, brambles and cherry, and there were tourists in the Visitor Centre being helped by the member of staff.
This old coal yard is located by the waterway which once transported the fuel to Yorkshire, where incidentally the next-door sliver of a bridge was formed before being placed in its current position in 2016. Unlike the Park’s paths which absorb any sound (do not try with buggies, bikes nor suitcases), the bridge’s smooth surface resonates with and amplifies joggers’ footfall and cycle wheels.
Just down the road is the St Pancreas old church and gardens, today shining in the sun and showing off its higgledy-piggleddy stones, working mortuary, royal blue water fountain (at least I think that is what it is), and unusual monument “especially dedicated to the memory of those whose graves are now unseen or the records of whose names may be …(could not read this word) obliterated”.
They have done a great job of bringing interesting facts and people to our attention in the wee church: the relationship of Thomas Hardy to the ‘consecrated burial ground’, and memorials to Mary Wollenstonecraft, female activist, and John Soane, architect of the Bank of England whose main residence is in the area and whose ‘country’ house in Ealing (Pitzhanger Manor, see above) I coincidentally visited last week.
Under the trees sit study groups, lunching pairs and individuals reading or on their phones. What a contrast with the welcome smell of warm wax which filled the holy interior. I enjoyed the plaque ‘in memory of my dear husband Earnest Wiggins d 1975’ before drifting into my third bout of 60 winks sitting on a proud wooden chair at the back listening to the ponderous ticking of an unseen clock.
Making my way towards Mornington Crescent tube station, with its faint hints of Mary Poppins and WW2 popular songs, I come across Goldington Crescent Gardens. In the Autumn sun, causing the fallen leaves to glow and throwing strong olive green and top-hat grey shadows on the grass, there is a public sculpture. It is in three parts: one resembles a silver pile of unmentionable; the second an ant eater with its snout in the ground; and the third I know not what. It stands out starkly beside the pink and red brick 1903 Goldington Buildings opposite, its edges elegantly wrapping around whatever is in its heart. Interesting fact: in Vienna they have a word for these buildings which conceal a space behind the facade which is ‘Hof’.
What to take with you (and more helpful info.) for beginners.
Just to give you an idea of the context: I walked the Camino Francés (Spain) in October/November 2016, two thirds of the camino Via de la Plata / Sanabrés (Spain) in December 2016 and May 2017, and some of the randonnée GR223 (Normandy, France) also in May 2017, so you will deduce that I have walked in temperatures ranging from 20 to 41 degrees, in a relatively small area of Europe. I am under 5 foot tall (1.524 metres) and 7-and-a-half to 8-and-a-half stone (50-55 kilos). Take into account that I am female, just over 50 years old, and pretty fit with no injuries.
The basic recommendation is 10 percent of your weight, but given that many women’s weight varies according to time of month / day etc, and that you will undoubtedly lose weight as you walk, this is just a general guideline. It does not include water (1 to 2 litres depending on the weather and the route), nor food (only snacks are really necessary for a basic 6 hour walking day, except on a Sunday).
What sort of rucksack? I took a 44 kilo one which is easily big enough. Buy the strongest and lightest one you can afford, and you will have to have a cover for it. (Some people travel with nothing, or a laptop case with a toothbrush, but that’s extremely unusual.)
‘Each object a person carries represents a particular fear: of injury, of discomfort, of boredom, of attack. The “last vestige” of fear that even the most minimalist hikers have trouble shedding, he said, was starvation. As a result, most people ended up carrying “way the hell too much food”. He did not even carry so much as an emergency candy bar.’ M.J.Eberhardt, see below for link to Nimblewill Nomad.
So these are the ‘I absolute cannot do without’ items:
Boots or shoes: The first time I walked long distance, I wore second hand boy’s boots which a kind friend gave to me because her son had grown out of them. I did have blisters for a week or so but after that my feet got used to the walking and I was mostly fine. They got very wet very soon after it began to rain, and took a long time to dry.
For my second trip I bought light-weight, waterproof, Columbia shoes, and they were wonderful except that they went into holes after 3 months. Not a blister in sight.
When I went to colder climes, I wore heavy-duty Vibram (with gortex) boots, suitable for snow and big stones. One of the little metal bits on one side which the lace goes around broke off on the first day, but I was already many kilometres from the shop and they said I had to bring it or send it in, even though I sent a copy of the receipt and a photo. They have been supportive and comfortable pretty much from the start with the right socks (see below).
Foot cream: maybe antiseptic or anti-fungal, but definitely creamy cream is an absolute must. I was taught by my guardian angel of a companion on the Camino Francés to massage my feet every day before putting on my socks and shoes, and to do it again and air them well at night or when I stopped along the way. Vital!
Plasters (for blisters): preferably the special ones for all parts of your feet (heel, toes, balls), and I recommend the brand ones as the others come off after one day. A needle and thread – yes you heard right. Here’s why: thread the cotton through the needle and pierce the blister carefully with the needle. Draw the thread through the blister releasing the fluid (sorry!) and leave it there, removing the needle. Then tie a small knot and it should remain for a few days. The build-up of the fluid is the painful part, and this way that drains away whilst the skin remains almost in tact, allowing a new layer to grow underneath with the minimum of discomfort.
Passport and/or identity card, health card (to get free treatment in the EU, make sure it is up-to-date), and money: you may want one credit or bank card for emergencies (see below). I took a post office money card which, once I had worked out how to do it, I was able to quickly top up on my phone with euros.I also used it in big supermarkets and to pay for things over the phone/by internet like travel tickets. Paypal is also very useful if you have money in your account. Once again you can pay in £s or other currency. There are lots of cash machines on the Camino Francés and some on the other caminos. Banks are tricky because you have to be there when they are open and usually you will be walking during the morning and exhausted / too hot in the afternoon if they are open then, which they are not always.
Money: the Spanish caminos are cheap compared with France: allow 10 euros per night if staying at a hostel; coffee and tea are 1 euro each; the pilgrim menu is 6-10 euros; and supermarkets are basically cheaper than the UK. You will probably visit the supermarket every day as you will not want to carry food unless you have to (except for Sundays when everything is shut), and they are mostly geared to sell you one piece of fruit, one piece of fish, even eggs one at a time (watch the clever way they twist paper to make a carrying flute!).
By comparison France is really pricey, particularly accommodation, with the ‘auberges de jeunesses’ (youth hostels) being the cheapest. The ‘randonnee’ I walked was divided into stages but, in my experience, there were no cheap places to stay at the ends of those stages, not for backpackers.
Useful tip 1: for hostels/hotels make sure you research in advance for France and Norway.
Useful tips 2 and 3: Do not change money at the airport as it is very expensive, so take some currency with you from home. Neither should you use your ordinary bank debit or credit card unless you have checked before you go that you do not have to pay exorbitant charges for withdrawing money or paying in local currency. Many Spanish hostels will only accept cash.
Something to carry your important things in: I had a bum bag and liked it, but when it poured with rain everything got wet. My friend had a thick, flat plastic pouch round his neck, under the outer layer, and that was safe and stayed dry.
A ‘credential’, otherwise known as a pilgrim passport, which you can have stamped at every stop and will then present to the authorities in Santiago de Compostella so you can get your certificate of completion, your ‘compostella’.
A smart phone: I would suggest that you get the best phone you possibly can. One that
fits in your pocket
has as much internet capacity as possible (in the UK see ‘3’ for international packages and beware other companies who offer similar but which are geared to ‘normal’ holidays so are only valid for a month at a time)
has the best camera you can afford (back up your photos eg with Google which is free and easy)
has a torch
has maps (also useful for bus and train times etc)
has lots of space for apps (think guidebook app instead of a heavy Lonely Planet book, or specialist maps, airplane boarding passes, bus and other tickets, booking Bla Bla cars or accommodation, getting you out of trouble, making contact with home (or rescuers, or even new lovers)
has a translation app
has the capacity for writing notes as long as it is backed up (I write notes as I walk because I would not remember if not, but have been known to delete by mistake which is terrible ). You think you will remember everything but you probably won’t and so a notebook and pen or phone version may be invaluable
has Spanish or other language lessons on it eg Duolingo
is ‘big’ enough for downloading a film or book if you want.
A smaller, cheaper, old-style phone: I recommend you also take one of these, especially if you don’t have a contract on your smart phone which allows you to communicate outside your own country. You can buy a SIM card wherever you are and this will enable you to phone or text within that place. Also, if you lose it it isn’t the end of the world. The only problem I encountered was that one shop wanted a local address so my friend who lived there used his which caused problems when I wanted to top up. I suspect this wouldn’t always be the case.
A charger: I have had a great deal of luck with people lending or giving me a spare charger, and not much in buying cheap ones. You can charge your phone at all albergues (hostels) but if it is busy there will be a great deal of competition for the sockets, and although they are often by the beds they can also be in the kitchen or hallway instead. This means that you either need to stand beside the phone or trust that no-one will steal it – I didn’t hear of anyone having their phone stolen.
Useful tip 4: In Madrid you can get phone accessories in vending machines so you do not have to wait for shops to open. The quality seems to be good.
Useful tip 5: Always set a password or pass pattern on your phone so that others cannot open it.
Useful tip 6: You can charge your phone while waiting at bus stations. The sockets are at elbow height in the semi-outdoor parts of the buildings. You can also charge and get wifi on all intercity Spanish buses (eg Alsa).
An adaptor for 2-pin plugs: depending on where you are coming from and are travelling to, there are expensive international adaptors which are good if you are going all around the world, otherwise it is cheaper to get a 3-to-2 pin. You will only need one if you only have one gadget!
A wrap: I would not be without this large pink piece of cloth which doubles as a scarf, something to sit on, something to wear when visiting churches or at the mass in Santiago out of respect, a pillow, a cover-up…invaluable.
A sleeping bag or sheet: it depends on the time of year you will be walking and where. In the summer on the Spanish caminos you will not need a sleeping bag, but do take a sheet bag (I doubled over a single sheet lengthways and sewed the edges together), or buy a silk one. They stop you getting bitten in the hostels and keep you warm in the early hours or if the windows are open. In the late Autumn you will need a proper sleeping bag and if you can afford it, get a light-weight but warm one as they pack very small.
A light-weight travel towel: it dries really easily and is worth investing in if possible.
A torch: a head one is very useful if you walk in the dark, ie you might want to leave before sun-up in summer to avoid the heat of the day, and it leaves your hands free. You might manage with a phone torch to avoid the weight though.
Useful tip 7: You can buy replacement batteries easily, so don’t take them with you from home as they are very heavy. Or you could use an eco- wind-up one.
Camera: one person I know buys a cheap one before every trip so as not to carry a big heavy one or risk losing it or having it stolen. I would rather have one piece of equipment so my preference is to get a phone with the best camera I can afford, but I accept that often real cameras are better quality.
Pockets in my shorts: – one for water, one for phone and toilet paper. If you choose to have a water bottle attached to your rucksack with a tube to souk on, you would have a pocket free (see below). If you wear shorts without pockets, well, you decide, but if you take as many photos as me you will be wanting to have the camera on hand.
Useful tip 8: when you are on the path you will not want to keep taking your rucksack on and off unless you really have to because it is unwieldy. You would have to undo and do up, and then probably readjust all the straps, and you do want your hands free for the baton(s), or to swing your arms to keep the circulation going, or to hold hands with someone special.
Poles, batons or walking sticks: I walked the whole Camino Francés without one. Then I was gifted one and used it for the more tricky terrain of the end of the Via de la Plata / Sanabrés and was very glad to have it. BUT. Then I lost it and although I bought another one for the next trip, I also lost that one. SO…
Useful tip 9: Tie your baton(s) to your rucksack or boots when you stop, and at night so you do not leave them anywhere. I bought a children’s one from Go Outdoors for £5 which was fantastic, but then again, I am very short.
A map or guide book: well, it depends. The Camino Francés is very well signposted and whatever time of year you walk it there will be plenty of other people to help you find your way. Some people use theirs for a record, write notes in it and keep it for posterity. Others ceremoniously tear out the pages each night, as a sign of completion and to lighten their load. It is useful for albergues and other places to stay, and many are very well researched and have lots of interesting information. On the other hand there are also fantastic apps. Or you could wing it. As for the other caminos in Spain or elsewhere, in retrospect I would say get a book or app, but you will manage, especially if you speak some of the local language. People love to help even if they do not really know or understand you, so be prepared to be sent in the wrong direction sometimes!
Your specs and/or contact lenses and cleaning fluids if you use them. Sun glasses (whatever time of year).
2 x knickers or boxers (cotton, easy-dry material)
2 x bras if you wear them – it is nicer not to, many don’t
3 x socks double layer ones come highly recommended but they are expensive. Or wear one lovely soft, easy-dry pair underneath with a second pair on top which won’t need washing every night. You will need others in case your usual ones are still wet in the morning, and another pair if it is cooler in the evenings or for bed.
Useful tip 10: Do not wear wet socks!
1 x easy-dry T shirt and one other light top for evening that doesn’t need ironing and doesn’t crease.
1 x fleece, preferably light but warm with a hood to avoid the need for a warm hat. Note that walking by the coast along a linear walk (eg along the Normandy coast or the Camino del Norte) means that there could be a strong breeze in one ear day after day.
1 x sun hat or cap (it is better to have a hat so that the back of your neck as well as your ears and face are shaded). Also a warm hat if you do not have a hood.
1 x light, easy-wash and -dry trousers if you don’t want to get sun burn, bitten or scratched. 1 x other pair of trousers – not jeans as they are normally heavy and even heavier if wet. A belt because you will get smaller!
Useful info: even if you don’t wear your jeans to walk in, your whole rucksack may get soaking wet and then you will still have to dry them and they take days.
1 x rain trousers and 1 x rain poncho / jacket. Make sure they are not just for light showers because if it rains all day everything will be wet through. Hopefully they will pack up very small.
Gloves: you might not need them but they are very small and light. I did wear them in the mornings in late November / December and once at night.
Useful reminder: if you are arriving by air and planning to take your rucksack on the plane, you can only take 100 ml per tube, bottle or pot, and all that has to fit in one very small plastic bag which seals, about the size of a small freezer bag. This includes all sorts of foodstuffs such as marmite and tahini. Neither can you take sharp things, so this also goes for nail clippers or scissors, pen knife and body hair razor.
You may also want:
a cream for between the buttocks /thighs or in the groin if you are male. All that chaffing…!
Sun tan lotion. Toilet paper or tissues. Toothbrush and toothpaste.
Condoms. The ‘pill’ if you are pre-menopausal and that’s what you usually use.
Hair ties are very small and light and you will probably want to keep your hair off your face if it’s hot.
Panty liners, sanitary towels etc. You can buy certain brands along the way.
Find a joint shampoo / conditioner / soap (there is rarely soap in hostels).
First aid: Antiseptic, sprain and bruise cream. I recommend natural calendula for cuts and rashes which also covers sun burn, and arnica (bruises, bumps), or Rescue Remedy cream for the same as arnica plus bites. Rescue Remedy for emergencies for you and others. Mosquito stuff. Any medications you usually take (order more before you leave home), and bring a repeat prescription just in case.
Utensils and food stuffs: A pan which doubles as a carrying pot, a tupperware for left-overs and freshness (bread, soft fruit, opened packets of biscuits, chocolate which might melt), knife/fork/spoon, salt/pepper/spices, water bottle(s), and green tea bags (obviously!).
Talking about rain, I happened to have a newspaper in the bottom of my rucksack (quite heavy in the scheme of things, but fortuitous) the day it rained and it soaked up the worst, whereas my friend’s things all got very wet.
A carrier bag or a small light rucksack: for shopping/evening or sightseeing when the big one is in the hostel but you still need something.
Notebook and pen: if you are not using your phone, and /or a sketch pad and pencil.
‘Shaving down one’s pack weight, he said, was a process of sloughing off one’s fears.’ M.J.Eberhardt, see below for Nimblewill Nomad link.
The thing I forgot and wish I hadn’t: a small plastic bottle to fill with delicious Spanish olive oil.
And you will probably be happy to have these with you:
Earplugs. Some dormitories are vast and in busy periods they are therefore noisy.
One of those half circular blow-up cushions for plane / bus / car journeys when you might want to shut your eyes. And some like an eye mask.
Clothes pegs – very light and easy to find little tiny spaces for.
A corkscrew (or just buy screw-top wine and ring-pull beer), and a cup.
A swimming costume – there were several times I wanted one. Even when I remembered it on my second trip, I sent it back and then wished I hadn’t!
Think very carefully if you really need these:
A book or kindle: It depends on you. Both weigh quite a bit and personally I have not read much while on the road or seen others read. Many hostels have shelves of free books which you can pick up, read and then swap for another further along the route.
Please note that I have no experience of tablets or other phone alternatives, but do try to keep the number of appliances to a minimum.
A wrist watch: your phone will probably do, and your tissues / flesh swells as you walk, plus there’s the sun and sweat. I found it was a nuisance.
Same with jewellery, especially rings – they all came off and then had to be stored carefully to make sure they didn’t get lost.
Make-up, hair straighteners, drier etc – I would say unnecessarily bulky and inappropriate but you know your self. If you need these things you might prefer to be in a private hostel as they have more amenitities for a slightly higher price.
1 x long skirt for walking: stops you getting your legs burned but I would recommend that you wear light shorts or boxers underneath. You will have to hitch it up for steep climbing eg Galicia on the Camino Francés.
A coat, jeans, woollen jumper or cardi: they are all heavy and hot (even if the weather isn’t great, you will get very hot when walking), they get sodden and are then extremely hard to dry, plus bulky in the rucksack.
Washing powder or liquid for clothes: you can easily use soap. And a clothes line.
You can send things home relatively cheaply, many people do: I met an English man who had bought his guitar to Spain with him, and he was on the way to the post office to send it home!
Before you go, write down what you know of your itinerary, especially if you will be in the wild or possibly without phone signal. Leave it with someone – just in case something happens and they need to know where you are.
Don’t get attached to your belongings! You will probably leave things in the fridge, or forget them in cafés, or want to swap them for a bottle of wine. They are only things. Walking the caminos can help you with perspective.
Finally, always remember that you will not be very far from shops most of the time. Do some research of your route before you leave, but the caminos in Spain and the randonnées in France are near civilisation, at least every few day, so you can buy most things. You will be surprised what you can do without, source from other walkers, substitute, or find lying around.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grassy paths wound up and over the rocks, seagulls shrieked, and the fresh breeze bought welcome fragrances of the cypress trees.
Picnic lunch was taken (illegally, it transpired) under ancient stones to shelter from the wet.
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.
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.
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.
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!