Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Family Silver

The sophisticated meeting place is a central cafe. The old post office. Waiters wear stylised version of the postal workers uniform. A taste of things to come. 

Thirty five days

This week.St-Jean-de-Losne: Dole: Besancon: Ornans: Pontarlier (twice).

A plateau. Canals, rivers, boats and trains, all over the place. Detoured.

Friday, 28 June 2013


M. Courbet. Fled from prison in Paris 1880, via his parents home in Ornans and then onto exile in the Swiss Jura. My route exactly. He wore peasant gear and an 'asyrian' beard, I'm wearing Haglofs. One of the few artists to come from a farming family.

Burial at Ornans

The location for Courbet's painting of his uncles funeral. Peasant life
as religious allegory. Revolutionary heresy that shot him to painting fame. It is also where Gustave's body was buried.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Trip Hazard

Towns in France are ripping themselves apart in their hurry to regenerate, part of this is the reintroduction of trams. If anything is going to kill me it will be a tram. The Silent Killer. Crossing the rails I feel vulnerable, lost. I never know which way to look,  A mistake and that's it, the quick way to Zurich. 

Peace and Quiet

You are best able to measure the cultural energy of a place by the graphic sophistication of its fly posters, flyers and random stickers. The city council would disagree. Besencon has a pretty good crop.

A few kilometres later

Suddenly it's all change. The hills have arrived. With them the goats, cows with bells, unrestricted pasture, 2 monks in brown habits and a vegetarian option on the menu. All smiles. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Washing (again)

Ma vie sur la route. Poor french causes confusion. I ask about the whereabouts of a laundrette. Car wash? Eh? Lavage vs Laverie. Un vs une! You want to use the car wash to do your washing? Eh? This morning, a laundrette with added car wash. All hot water and bubbles. The Blue Elephant, Dole, Jura, France. Terrible name, terrible graphics but  sensible and social. Phew, glad that's sorted.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Tow path

A beaver sets out across the canal, spots me, double takes to confirm, then submerges. I don't move for ten minutes. No beaver. 

Rhine Rhone

Clumps of Mistletoe. Lovely long lizards, herons (probably related) and kestrels, who seem to have the same affinity to canal banks that they do with motorway hard shoulders.

Monday, 24 June 2013


This morning a sign for Geneva on the motorway as it whizzed past. An emotional booster.


And into the Jura. French Jura.
When the Seine disappeared so too did the Grand Randonnee Two. GR2. The footpath from Le Havre along the Seine almost to Dijon. I have transferred my affections to the Canal de Bourgogne, the River Saone, and from today, the Rhone to Rhine link canal. Walking along  canals, though simpler is mentally longer. Relative charms, 1km on a river feels like two on a canal.
The mountains I have been predicting have not materialised. Poor geography studies. Wonderfully flat. Rain storms become visible as cross hatching on the horizon an hour away. Giving time for avoidance, I managed to scrounge a lift on a barge just as a heavy downpour began. Got me past a restricted zone, no towpath due to a chemical factory.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Twenty eight days

This week

Troyes: Chatillon-sur_Seine: Agnay-le-duc: St-Seine-l'Abbaye: Dijon X 3

Full moon over Cote d'Or

Friday, 21 June 2013

Country Life

A few things I have learned.
That peaches can be flat and courgettes round.
Overhead power cables go CRICK and then again CRICK when you are enjoying the silence.
Horses itch lying down. They roll around on the ground. (of course).
That growing corn is a very precise process. (of course). Farm workers measure the fields out and place markers for planting accuracy and harvesting efficiency.
That constant whirr, the grating whirr of forestry workers, sawmills, humble carvers is the collective sound of council employees and local residents strimming back nature.
That blackbird is spoken in all the places I have been to.

Interlude (again)

To chat with friends, have a solstice pancake, listen to the music, and watch the moon rise over Dijon.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

1848 (reprise)

Going in the opposite direction to Louis Philippe was Frederich Engels. At the height of the February revolution Engels lost his grip and went for a long walk to Burgundy. It was here that he discovered Chateau Margaux 1848, the classic Bordeaux.
Four white butterflies around a striking blue flower (not budlea). A billowing priest on a 12speed drop handlebar bicycle. Bonjour. Made me jump. 

Communications highway

This morning my quiet companion of twenty-four days the Seine disappeared down a hole. A lot of water. It shall not be missed. Replaced by the Burgundy canal and the Saone. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Chateau d'eau

Wash houses (Les Lavoirs) have been reinstalled in many villages during the past few years. Welcome relief from the sun, a cool local meeting point and somewhere to show the history of the village. This tower was between the lavoir and the church, one of a set of pictures explaining how the local spring was maintained. You can see this tower on the horizon for at least thirty miles. Chateau d'eau, so much more poetic in French.

Red watery things

The man in the garden; he says that to grow tomatoes in England you need an umbrella. 

A Green Land

Awoke wolf whistling to the view over the forest. Must be happy. This area is the source of many rivers, inc. the Seine and the St Seine, which adds to the confusion. It also the source of much bottled water, accounting for the rigorous security fencing and large scale tankers rattling down country lanes. If anywhere in France should be kept moist, this is the spot. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Border country

Into real Burgundy. Chatillon was the border post with Champagne and the anglo-french. In 1598 the castle was demolished at the demand of the towns residents. All the military activity was getting on their nerves. 

Glorious weeds

Lots more black butterflies, a couple of brown fish swimming in the river, and two flat snakes, roadkill, one small, smooth, the other far bigger with a diamond pattern. Reminds me.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Champagne country

No hills.

Buzzards, black butterflies and more (empty) Japanese restaurants than I can count. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Twenty one days

This week. Melun: Montereau: Saint Martin-sur-Oreuse: Aix-en-Othe (twice): Troyes (twice).

The flat half of the journey, foothills and mountains next.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Call of the Wild

This afternoon the wind direction changed. The town smelled of cornfields and rape seed. I ate ice cream.

The real sausage

Three military helicoptors, a field of satellite dishes, a hare leaping through waist high corn, and the most horrendous puffball skirts plus heels.

Une veritable andouilllette de Troyes. Heritage tripe. Chitterlings.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Going forward

In the rush to get to the next town, river, country I have to remind myself. STOP. Turn around. The view's often better looking back.


I am walking away from the sea. Into the middle. I don't know why but this feels significant.


Green, white, yellow, red, (purple). Now it is the time for blue flowers to have their go.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

To Spain and back

Today the conversation was of routes.

A newly dedicated pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostela from North Western Europe. Via Paris, along the Seine, river Yonne and Sens. Not exactly direct but got the thumbs up and broad smiles from the cafe owner and a group of pilgrims returning to Holland from Santiago in their vintage Jaguars.
When I tell people of my journey, they nod wisely about the GR2, the long distance east to west path. Switzerland, Suisse yes, yes, no problem. But why are you  going to Dijon? Followed by a mime of a lump and more wise noddings. 
There are several interlocking graphs of compromise in this pilgrimage thing. The direct route. Noise, fumes, endless lorries versus country roads, river banks and lanes is one. Cost and personal autonomy: hotel Ibis vs small village gites is another. Internet connection, wifi available, another? And possibly style? Solitary walker; sprightly, shorts, chunky boots, mini rucksack, weather shielded map ready to go on one end of the scale and this group of five course bon vivants on the other. 

Chaucer (plus Powell&Pressburger and Pasolini) were so accurate in their descriptions. Timeless. A cockerel crowing in the next field says it is time to leave. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


Lizards, blue butterflies, noisey grasshoppers, and rediculously large US cartoon style ants. It must be summer?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


The man with a van who took me out of the cement works and put me back on track told me that he had walked to Paris, took him three days. 
Woman kicking a dryer in the laudrette, I offered kicking advice, she asked if I was English. Pause. The dryer started to spin. We laughed. She'd been made redundant. She was going to New York State to walk. To think, she said.
Alain, in the place I stayed last night, told me Schuberts song cycle Winterreise worked for him. It goes  round and comes back to itself, he said.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Fourteen days

This week. Meulan: Nanterre (twice): Paris: Corbiel: Melun:

Although I may have eaten it all, I am now entering the bread basket of France. La Beauce. Where the food is produced that keeps Paris going.

Along the route of the Ibis

By default I have stayed in several Hotel Ibis. They serve my needs perfectly. Similar set up in most locations. Simple rooms, comfy bed, working shower, free wifi, standard breakfast with pleasant staff who seem to be multilingual. Best is that Ibis Budgets are less expensive than most chambre d'hote and gites. Usually on the outskirts of town, they appear like an oasis on the horizon, just as I'm heading for despair. There seems no limit to Ibis expansion into France.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Les chevreuils

Red squirrels and two small, neat deers (not wild boar as has been suggested).


Getting out of towns is difficult, like with supermarkets, they bounce you back in again for some more. Frustrating. New developments, golf courses and ring roads are the main culprits. They have a tendency to block off the footpaths and ancient bridle ways. Makes me wonder where Iain Sinclair was heading when he did his Grande Tour of the M25. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013


Under the motorway a field full of wild roses in bloom. Smelled wonderful.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Discussing happy.

Concluded that pied wagtails, actually not just pied, all wagtails are what makes me happy. Their size, they way they jump about, the way they fly, that they are so determined, work in groups and yet seem so independent. They are the cat of the bird world.

Day Bed

Nipped into the Carnavalet to see Prousts cork lined bedroom. On this bed he wrote all his novels. The cork lining was so that he wouldn't be disturbed by noise from the street.


Stopped over in Paris to see friends, take stock, have conversations and to relax. Marvellous. 

Wooded glade

Previously the places I have got lost in have been ornamental gardens and gravel pits. Until I spent a whole morning wandering around the well charted Bois de Boulogne. My frustration eventually relieved by dramatic, and noisy, police intervention against a long row of family 4x4 vehicles tamely parked on a cute leafy lane. The road was blocked by police cars, flashing lights, sirens etc. In seconds all the parked cars were ticketed then roughly bounced then lifted onto tow away trucks. Whole families, joggers, people eating ice creams emerged from the wooded glades screaming, crying, shouting, some clinging to their cars. One man climbing onto the back of a towtruck trying to uncouple his car. I was warned not to take photographs. It was a nasty business, done with military precision. No lives were lost but prisoners were taken. I had discovered the back streets of Roland Garros, a major tennis tournament was in play,  

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Getting out.

This suburb shuffles around me. It's residents making for the centre. I walk with them, at their pace. It's hot. Arms by their sides, palms out, gazing somewhere off camera. Dress; ultra casual. No bonjours. Silence. A town on medication. Bread shop, the cut-down supermarket, swipe card, home.

Monday, 3 June 2013


Wandering along a deserted footpath zoning out on the nature I came upon a large modern house. The only equivalent house of that era I had heard of was mentioned in fine detail in Man Ray's autobiography. This was the country retreat of Paul Poiret, a celebrated fashion designer in nineteenthirties Paris. A young and in awe Man Ray spins  a great story of Poirets' decadent behaviour and his eventual fall from grace. I had made a mental note to check where it was, little expecting to literally fall across it a few months later. Man Ray says that by the time of the second war the building was in disrepair. It has obviously been redecorated. It would have been a good location for the Great Gatsby. Though from the blackout and trucks outside it looks as if they are filming something there right now.

Twinned with Leatherhead

The McDonalds are getting closer together, the yapping dogs smaller and it's more difficult to find a quiet spot to have lunch without bothersome pigeons. The Seine is overfull. It flows over the ornamental bushes and the quaint paths that line the river. The queue in the boulangerie this morning was full of it. What will happen? No rain but the river is definitely rising.

Sunday, 2 June 2013


Getting up, out of bed not knowing where you are going to stay the next night, what you are going to eat, directing yourself through a country that you don't understand the language can be exciting and beautiful. It is unsettling too.
Your emotions are on the outside. Walking longer distances than usual exhausts you energies.  Decisions get made on gut feeling. I left one town and walked seven miles to the next because it was cloudy, the place looked gloomy. The right decision. All the time you are on the look out for clues. The sight of a suburban tower block in the distance lifted me. The ugly bridge over the Seine at Rouen made me gushingly happy. The first sight of Paris...
I've become aware of my body, too aware, particularly my feet. Slight pains or aches could mean the end of the journey. These niggle as you walk. My mind thought I had a blood clot in my ankle, it was a bit of plastic from a price tag in my sock. A real nuisance. My sun tan lotion is waterproof, it makes me sweat in an odd way.
When I have sorted out the end of my day, take off my rucksac, I want to go for a walk. It is difficult to stop. I have been having to deliberately time out, to go nowhere. To sit down, take pressure off my feet. To listen?


On my own inside the church of Notre Dame de Mantes la Jolie. A blackbird is chirping away high in the rafters. The acoustics are supreme.

Iain Sinclair

"A walk is a series of questions" 
Thank you Jane.

Each day someone in a car has drawn up next to me to ask directions. Personally, the last person I would flag down is a man in sunglasses lugging an embarrassingly large rucsac. Obviously not local. Any conversation only lasts till they realise I am British and sweating heavily.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


Feeling a bit maudlin this morning. The thought of a street dedicated to bird song lifted my spirits. As does radio4 programme on recordings of birdsong. The advantage of being in France is that it is on an hour later.

Sunday afternoon on the banks of the Seine with Sainsburys' bag inMantes

Seven days.

I have never walked so far.

Brighton: Newhaven: Dieppe: Totes: Rouen: Poses: Les Andelys: Vernon: Mantes la Jolie. 

I seem to have been following two contradictory routes. One taken by ex-king Louis Philippe and his family as they fled Paris for Surrey during the 1848 revolution. His name and image keep cropping up. I passed directions to a museum/ stately home dedicated to the Orleans legitimacy over the French crown. One night  I stayed in an olde inn that had his picture on the wall. Freaky or kitsch?
In the opposite direction, I seem to have been following the off-road berghaus route of the Canadian army as it moved en masse into Europe in 1944. Every ultra long suburban avenue in Normandy is named after them, which must be confusing for the postal service. Not much mention of the US or British, perhaps they landed elsewhere or maybe some of the Canadians spoke French and get a better press as a result?.