Sunday April 30, 2023

Aosta to Nus, 16.38km

Ok, so you can’t have everything! The temperature dropped and the rain fell on us for most of the walk today. Clouds obscured the snowy peaks of the mighty Alps surrounding the Aosta valley. BUT, we saw Roman bridges, castles and spectacular scenery (even through the mist)! We’re happy. The walk was made even more pleasant with the aid of our new walking poles and by a significant reduction in the weight of our packs – Lois, in particular, traded her 30L pack for a new 10L daypack.

As arranged, our bags were picked up by Sr. Pelanda. An Air Tag enabled us to track them to their destination! After today, however, we will have to come up with a different plan, as he later texted to say the cost would go up significantly as we got further away from Aosta.

After espresso, cappuccino and a marmalata croissant for Lois, we headed east through the Porta Pretoria, built in 25BCE, passed by the Arco di Augusto from the same era and then walked across the Roman Ponte di Pietra, all in the space of a few minutes! We soon climbed high above the valley, the path often following the routes of ancient “rus” or irrigation canals, which have enabled agriculture and rearing of cattle (cow bells were heard), goats, and sheep for millennia. We stopped for our mid-morning hot chocolate and poppy seed pastry close to the Saint-Christophe 12C church, where a Sunday service was underway. Later, we passed the Castello di Quart, dating from 1185, currently under renovation. “At the mouth of the Valsainte, on a promontory that is steep on all sides, rises the castle of Quart”. Appropriately, the slopes were covered with ancient vines bearing new shoots along the Chemin des Vignobles.

In other signs of spring, the fragrance of wisteria trailing along old stone walks, Rosemary in bloom, budding roses, flowering lilacs and purple irises.

The paths were great (no mud!) until a last steep section descending to Nus, where rains had washed rocks and stones down the path, making navigating difficult. Wet and cold, we recovered over pear, Gorgonzola and Fior di latte pizza and a glass of local red.

Saint-Christophe Church
Castillo di Quart
The “Rus”

Wildlife notes: Eurasian Jay

April 27-29, 2023

We left Saint-Quentin early on Thursday arriving at Paris Gare du Nord in time to take the metro to Paris Gare du Lyon, have an espresso and share a pain-au-raisin and catch the train to Geneva. A direct train to Turin left just before us, but was fully booked. In any case, we had time in Geneva to reminisce and enjoy a leisurely patio lunch at La Matze. Two trains later,  we joined the TGV from Lyon to Turin (Torino).  It was noticeably warmer when we eventually arrived in Turin, the summer feel confirmed by the nocturnal drone of mosquitoes in our hotel room! 

Turin and Aosta

Friday morning, we took the slow train to Aosta which gave us a sense of the alpine valley we will be walking through. We checked into one of  Le Lion apartments,  very well-appointed and a 5-minute walk from a supermarket and the old city centre. There were also welcoming gifts of local products, including candies,  cookies, apple juice, beer and a bottle of Aosta Valley wine (Torrette). We took an extra day off to see a bit of the city and to prepare  to continue our trek. First, new poles were in order, having had ours confiscated at security in YYJ. We also decided to try to arrange baggage transport for what we wouldn’t need to carry each day,  considering some climbing that we will have to do until we are out of the Alps. Locating someone to do this took some help from the local tourist office. We hope it works out!  

Despite the mist and light rain that fell today, we had a lovely day exploring the city. Enclosed by the Alps to the north, south and west,  the spectacular setting for the ancient city of Aosta competes for attention with the city’s impressive Roman ruins,  pretty cobbled streets and  historic centre, the latter filled with enticing restaurants, pasticcerias, gelaterias, and high-end shops. With some restraint, we limited our eating out to lunches and coffee stops, buying fresh pasta to cook for dinners (along with the excellent bottle of Torrette). Following a self-guided tour, we visited the Praetorian Gate, dating from 25BCE, and the remains of a Roman theatre from 1AD. Apparently,  there are some arches still standing from the amphitheater, but to see them  requires knocking on the door of a convent and requesting entry from the sisters. We had another gelato instead!

An unexpected treat was an exhibition of the art of Jean Miro which opened today in the Regional Archeological Museum.  The well-curated and extensive exhibition gave us a quite different perspective on the influences and life of an artist we have both long admired. 

Foodwise, espresso is much better here than further north (7.5/10 in Turin – from India)! We sampled gnocchi and fonduta – a cheese sauce made with fontina cheese which is made in the valley

Tuesday April 26, 2023


We had a day off in Saint-Quentin today for two reasons. One, it looked like an interesting city to explore (it is), and, two, we needed to plan a change in our itinerary.

Our original plan had been to walk the first half of the Via Francigena, from Canterbury to the St. Bernard Pass, as spring turned into summer. However, spring seems a little slow in arriving in northern France this year and our thoughts are turning southward. We have now decided to head to Aosta and walk the second half of the route (or part of), in hopes of finding warmer weather and less mud.

We are grateful to have been able to do part of the northern half of the route (with interruptions due to illness, we walked 135 kms, just under half the way from Canterbury to here). We have met up with old friends and met new ones, attended Easter Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, hiked the ancient North Downs Way, experienced gale force winds along the Côte d’Opale, witnessed the legacy of war and resilience of people in Hauts-de-France, enjoyed the people, history, architecture and great food of an area of France we hadn’t yet visited, eaten amazing cheeses and the best croissants (and the wines have not been shabby either!).

We will take the train to Turin tomorrow (via Paris) and then on to Aosta on Friday.

Saint-Quentin offered a fascinating insight into the Art Deco period of the 1920’s and 30’s. We hadn’t quite appreciated before the relationship between the Art Deco movement and the end of WWI, with its consequent need for reconstruction and the impulses for change, coupled with the developing use and availability of reinforced concrete. Saint-Quentin, like many of the towns we have passed through, suffered damage to 80% of its buildings in WWI. With an audio-guide and pass from the tourism office that gave us access to the exquisite Salle du Conseil in the restored Hôtel de Ville, we also saw wonderful examples of Art Deco architecture in a number of other buildings, including private residences, a pharmacy, a department store, a cinema and the post office. Two of the stained glass windows in the Basilica are also in Art Deco style. In addition, the Basilica has a labyrinth on the floor of the nave, in place since 1495.

Hôtel de Ville de Saint-Quentin
Art Deco “oasis” motif
Conservatoire de Musique et Theatre
The Basilica labyrinth

Tuesday April 25th, 2023

Trefcon to Saint-Quentin 17.3km

Our breakfast at the gîte in Trefcon was basic: bread and jam and hot chocolate. Chatting with the owner, we learned that Picard is a language on its own (i.e., has a grammar) while Ch’ti is a dialect.

While it didn’t rain today, the weather remains grey and cool and the walk was more of the same – muddy paths across farmland and along an old railway track. Stopping for a break, we broke into our supplies of oatmeal and meusli, soaked with a little hot chocolate! Paul tried out his new Western Europe birdsong app and identified a Skylark, a Great Tit, and a Garden Warbler.

Wildlife notes: Roe deer

Monday April 24, 2023

Péronne to Trefcon 18.58km

Walking around last evening while waiting for a restaurant to open, we came first upon the 17thC Porte de Bretagne in the old city wall (reconstructed after WWI) and then by a WWI memorial with a dramatic sculpture by Paul Auban, « Picardie maudissant la mort” (Picardy cursing death). Picardy, part of Hauts-de-France, is a historical region of northern France, stretching north from the suburbs of Paris and vineyards of Champagne to the beaches of the Bay of Somme on the English Channel.

The restaurant, Au Gars du Nord, served local fare, one of the dishes being variants of Welsh Rarebit (Les Welsches) said to have been introduced by the British during WWI. Paul’s meal was a Savoyard variation, with Reblochon cheese sauce on Rösti.

La Porte Bretagne
Drawbridge mechanism
Picardie maudissant la mort
La Mairie
La Citadelle

After a quick look at the Citadel this morning, we lined up at a boulangerie for bread for lunch and, as there are no restaurants in Trefcon, went to Carrefour to buy something for dinner. We chose a salmon casserole and two rice puddings (the latter after some discussion, as the glass jars would add further weight to carry!)

The first part of the route was along an old railway track, easy underfoot and pleasant, with the sun shining and plenty of birdsong accompanying us. At the top of a hill in Cartigny, we decided to stop for an early lunch to take advantage of a lone bench in the sun.

After Cartigny, we were back walking along minor roads and muddy tracks. In Vraignes-en-Vermandois we noticed a series of plaques commemorating local writers. The inscriptions were in both French and what we suspect might be Ch’ti, or the language of Picardy.

The rest of the walk, particularly the last few kilometres, were much less enjoyable, as it became windier and began to rain and the muddy tracks made it hard going. When we arrived at our gïte, we discovered that the only cooking facilities are in another apartment, so supper was unheated salmon casserole (and rice pudding :)).

Hot chocolate
Local architectural style
Another walker

Flora and fauna

Sunday April 23, 2023

Bapaume to Péronne 24.7km (13.2 walking)

We awoke to a cloudless sky, which encouraged Lois (but not Paul – he looks at weather systems), suggesting that the forecast for rain all day beginning at 9:00 might be wrong. But, no, by the time we’d eaten breakfast, the skies were grey once again and the walk was a wet, windy and muddy one.

We followed minor roads and tracks through undulating farmland, much of which was planted with fragrant bright yellow canola. We found a bus shelter for our first break in Villers-au-Flos. This town was occupied by the Germans for much of WWI and there were signs to a German military cemetery. Later, we passed another Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetry, the Manchester Cemetry. In Rocquigny, we stopped to visit the modern-looking church, where we also got a pilgrim’s stamp. The church had been rebuilt after WWI, but due to “maladie de bêton” had to be demolished and was again rebuilt in 2013. Finding another bus shelter (!), we ate our sandwiches without lingering. It was warmer to keep walking! At Sailly-Saillisel, we ended our walk and waited for a cab to take us in to Péronne.


Itinerary note: Up till now we have found the route to be very well signposted but today many turns had no signs or markers at all. Paul had downloaded waypoints for each stage from the VF site and imported them into the Work Outdoors app. This has proved invaluable.

Saturday April 24, 2023

Arras to Bapaume 26.8km (16.6km walking)

Back on the road again! But, not before stopping at Notting Hill for a departing « noisette » (espresso macchiato) and a hot chocolate for our thermos. On his early morning trip to the boulangerie to buy breakfast croisants, Paul had also picked up a still hot almond croissant and cheese baguettes for lunch, so we were well provided for!

A gentle rain accompanied us as we walked south through the city and out onto rolling farmland, some fields sewn with sugar beet, presumably destined for a large local mill we could see in the distance.

We had a break in Mercatel in a conveniently situated bus shelter next to a chapel. Later, we passed a WWI cemetery of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Sunken Road Cemetry. Just down the hill was a small family chapel with a bench painted with the VF sign and a visitors book. Eventually the rain stopped and we ate our sandwiches sitting on our groundsheet under a tree. Near Hamelincourt, we were a little confused about where the path went, so decided to walk along the road through the town. This was fortuitous in that we came across an automated farm stand where Lois bought a local rhubarb yogurt. Also, the road took us past the site of the Casorti family final resting place. A plaque described this interesting Italian family which had maintained a summer residence in Hamelincourt in the middle of the 19thC (destroyed in 1917). Until the 1830’s, the family travelled throughout Europe as musicians, actors, acrobats or mimes, and were later hired as dance masters, music teachers and composers, or to teach etiquette and posture, mainly in France and Germany. Their compositions were and apparently still are performed the world over.

The farmland closer to Bapaume is dotted with windmills, which we were told have been appearing « like mushrooms ».

As we intended to only walk 15 kms today, we headed to a railway station at Courcelles le-Comte, from where we called a taxi to take us the remaining 10 kms.

Wildlife notes: Sound of a cuckoo

Sunken Road Cemetery

Monday to Saturday, April 16 -22, 2023

Waiting for the bus to Boulogne (from where we could catch a train to Arras), we looked across at the Eglise de Notre Dame de Licques, which is all that remains of an abbey, founded in 1075. The abbey and town suffered attacks from the English and Spanish in the 14thC, and the abbey was furthered damaged during the Revolution. As we waited, three fellow VF walkers approached from the direction of Guînes – a French woman who had started the walk to Rome from Callais (she would have begun from Canterbury, but had no passport), and two men from England who had begun walking from Winchester on Good Friday.

The bus trip to Boulogne, on time and comfortable, cost only 1€ each! Public transport is obviously valued here! Our bus driver even diverted from his usual route to drop us at the Gare SNCF. We then took two slow trains across country (changing at Le Touquet) arriving at Arras late afternoon where we had booked into the Le Dome hotel.

The following morning we checked out of Le Dome and moved into a lovely studio apartment (Les Anges) right off the Place des Héros, one of two grand cobbled squares in the centre of the city surrounded by Flemish Baroque-style townhouses. While the centre retains the appearance of a Baroque town, much of the centre had in fact been destroyed during WWI. Occupying a strategic position on the front line (earning it the name of « La ville martyr »), Arras was at the forefront of major battles during WWI, notably a major offensive action by the Allies during April and May 1917, during which Canadian forces gained Vimy Ridge. The remarkable rebuild was helped by the fact that, between 1556 to 1714, Arras was under Spanish rule and, during that time, Philip II of Spain decreed that all buildings be made of brick and stone and that they should all follow a similar identical style. This attention to detail meant that the town planners were able to rebuild the town in keeping with that style. Some buildings were reconstructed in the art deco style of the time. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de L’Assomptiom (original cathedral destroyed during the Revolution) was also rebuilt after WWI.

Feeling in need of solace, our first visit was to the Musée de Beaux Arts. The gallery is housed in what was the Saint-Vaast Abbey (dating back to 7thC, it was burned down by the Normans in 783, later reconstructed according to plans designed by the great Parisian architect Labbé, attacked by the Vikings in the 9thC, survived the French Revolution, destroyed during WWI, then reconstructed in identical style!) We happily spent a few hours looking at Flemish and Dutch painting, e.g., Rubens’ Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata (1615), masters of the Arras school (19thC), including Désiré Dubois, Xavier Doulens and Charles Desavary, and a particularly fascinating contemporary exhibition of photos by Michel Gantner.

The next day, we took a taxi out to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial at the site of Canada’s victory during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in WWI. The soaring monument, designed by Canadian sculptor Walter Seymour Allwood, sits on the top of the highest point of the ridge, overlooking the Douai Plain. Erected between 1925 and 1936, the monument honours all Canadians who served in WWI. It is carved entirely from Croatian limestone, transported from an ancient Roman quarry in Seget, Croatia. The battle-damaged landscape around the sides and back of the monument were left untouched.

Two pylons representing Canada and France, bearing a Maple Leaf and a Fleur de Lys to honour the sacrifices made by both nations, rise 27 metres above the base. The monument includes 20 human figures representing such values as honour, justice, peace, truth, knowledge, gallantry and sympathy. The topmost figure is that of peace. An allegoric sculptural group marks each corner; Breaking of the Sword on the south corner, Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless on the north. Two reclining figures on the southern (reverse) side of the memorial, located either side of the steps, represent the mourning mothers and fathers of Canada’s war dead. The largest figure, known as “Canada Mourning her Fallen Sons” or “Canada Bereft”, stands alone, head bent in sorrow, looking out over the slopes of the ridge. Inscribed on the outside wall of the monument are the names of the 11,285 Canadians who died in France with no known grave. A departure from earlier practices, the monument was erected as a memorial rather than a victory monument, focussing on the loss of life and sacrifice for one’s country, rather than military accomplishments. The memorial, cemeteries, trenches, tunnels, craters and visitor’s centre are on Canadian soil, a gift from France, and managed by Veterans affairs. The tour guides are Canadian students here for 3 months at a time. From Vimy Ridge looking north one can see the slag heaps from the once important coal mining industry of the area. The old mines and associated human made topography are a UNESCO heritage site.

The rest of our time in Arras we spent resting, eating, reading and walking – a self-guided walking tour identified more ancient churches, the 19thC Fontaine du Pont-de-Cité (a fountain of Neptune, not impressive in itself, but notable as it was installed by the water authority to provide potable water to avoid cholera), Le Beffroi (Belfry) we couldn’t go up, as the elevator was not working) and the Citadelle d’Arras (which we travelled to on the Citadine, a free electric mini-bus). We declined to tour the “Boves” (a 20 km maze 10 m beneath the city), underground quarries dug out from the ninth century onwards, to extract material for the construction of the city’s religious buildings and the first rampart, later used as merchants’ storage cellars, and, finally, used by Commonwealth soldiers ahead of the first attack launching the famous Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917.

Arras was first fortified in the 13th century with city walls. These defences were improved in the 16th century by the Spanish rulers of the time but the French took the city in 1640, after which Louis XIV commissioned the renowned military strategist, Vauban, to protect Arras and France from attack by the then Spanish Netherlands.
The Citadel of Arras, another UNESCO World Heritage site, one of many built by Vauban, mostly in northern France in the late 17thC, was constructed as a pentagonal star. Never beseiged, thus nicknamed « la belle inutile » (useless beauty), the Citadel at times served as a prison and was used by the military up until 2010. During WWII, 218 people (aged between 16 and 69 yrs) suspected by the occupying Germans of being supporters of the Resistance were executed there by the Nazis. The Citadel Chapel of Saint-Louis (1673), still relatively intact, is the oldest church in Arras.

Feeling rested and hopefully recovered from the viruses we will resume walking tomorrow. Given the distance to Bapaume we may to do part of tomorrow’s stage by public transport.

Place des Héroes, Le Bellfroi and Hôtel de Ville 1918 and today
Musée de Beaux Art – Archbishop Frumauld d. 1183
Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge

Sunday April 16, 2023

Gûines to Licques 15.36kms

After a huge breakfast at our BnB of local cheeses, fresh bread, pastries, thick yoghurt, juice, fresh fruit and good espresso, we packed leftovers for lunch and set off along GR 145/VF for Licques, soon entering the Forêt Domaniale de Guînes, where we passed the monument commemorating the first crossing of the Channel by balloon in 1785 by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries. We wandered through more forest with swaths of wild flowers and then followed tracks across rolling farmland, wheat fields and pastureland. As we approached Licques, we noticed a savoury sweet scent of fresh leeks arising from a crop ready for spring harvest. Licques is famed for its poultry production and its Fête des Dindes (Festival of the turkey), which traditionally heralded the start of the Christmas season.

For other travellers to note, there were no shops or restaurants open at all on Sunday. Fortunately, we still had brioche and cheese from our generous breakfast, which, together with local pear juice (for sale in our gîte, l’ombre de prunier – we highly recommend it) and tea were the evening’s meal.

While Lois felt well throughout the walk, by the time we reached the gîte, she was very tired and soon developed another fever. We have decided we need to take a longer break to allow her to properly recover, so we will go to Arras to rest for as long as necessary. We will be blogging again in due course.


Saturday April 15, 2023

Wissant to Guînes (not on foot)

Thankfully, a couple of days of rest have done the trick and Lois is feeling much better. Deciding that one more day without walking would probably still be wise, we decided to travel to our next stop, Guînes, by taxi (no trains and no buses without going back to Calais).

We booked a taxi for 3:00 and went off in search of lunch. This we found at Restaurant Le Herlen – fresh langostine, cabillaud (cod) in a mustard sauce and tarte á la cassonade, very similar to the sugar pie of Quebec, all delicious.

The 27km ride to Guînes was a pleasant drive through the green rolling countryside of Pas de Calais, even more so as the sun came out! Guînes is best known for the Field of the Cloth of Gold, a summit meeting between Henry VIII and King Francois I of France in 1520, a spectacular event which had little political impact.

We were pleased to be able to meet up with Krishna and David for a drink at their hotel, an enjoyable ending to the day.

Cheese notes: Sable de Wissant – from cows milk with a rind brushed with local “white” beer!

Tarte á la cassonade (and tea…)
Gûines 18thC clock tower built on a Viking mound

Thursday and Friday, April 13,14, 2023. Days off

We had already decided to have a day off after the battle with the wind on Wednesday, which was just as well, as Lois developed a fever and cold symptoms during the night. Despite the best efforts of Dr. Paul and a bag of cold medications from the local pharmacy, Lois’ fever persisted throughout Friday and we remain in Wissant (although moved to the more comfortable Hotel de la Baie, with a view of the beach.)

Paul has spent his time searching for food (take out not really a thing in France!), doing washing, getting our pilgrim passports stamped, reading, and looking around the town.

Wissant (white sand) was an important port when Sigeric the Serious ended his pilgrimage by crossing the channel from here in the 10thC. It is thought that in 55BC Julius Caesar left from Wissant to invade Britain. It was also the point of departure for Thomas Beckett when he returned to England in 1170 knowing his life was at risk as a result of his disagreements with Henry II. (The site of his assassination in Canterbury Cathedral is marked with four swords.) Shifting coastal sands eventually silted up the harbour and its importance became eclipsed by Calais. The town is now a seaside destination. Even in these cooler April days, there are people on the beach and numerous kite boarders riding the surf. Today, we could see the white cliffs of Dover.

We will either stay here another day or take a taxi to Gûines tomorrow. Hopefully, we will be back on the path on Sunday. As Lois says, “Viruses be damned, I have a right to be a pilgrim!” (the latter phrase quoting John Bunyan, as beautifully sung by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

Thomas Becket plaque


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Calais to Wissant – 20.6km

We looked out on a misty English Channel (La Manche from the French side) from a mostly empty lounge on the P&O ferry to Calais, as we dined on yesterday’s sourdough baguette (surprisingly still ok!) and cheddar cheese. Arriving on time, we didn’t disembark for another 1 1/2 hrs, due to a docking issue. It was windy and pouring with rain and we shared a taxi into the city with another couple.

Awaking to leaden skies and a cool 5C, we headed downstairs for a reliable Hotel Ibis breakfast before walking to the town centre to view the Flemish Renaissance style town hall and UNESCO heritage early 20thC bell tower and “Les Bourgeois de Calais” ,one of 12 casts of Rodin’s beautiful sombre sculpture. We had seen another cast of this sculpture in the Musée de Rodin in Paris and were keen to see it again.

Back to collect our packs, we set off towards Wissant, immediately encountering a diversion on the route, which meant that we missed Bleriot Beach, the departure site of the first airplane crossing of the English Channel in 1909. We had seen an original of one of Louis Bleriot’s planes in the ferry terminal in Calais last night.

By the time we rejoined the route along the sea shore, the rain was pelting down. The dilapidated German WWII embattlements along the way were reminders of the brutal past of this region of France. Leaving the beach, we followed a long sandy trail behind the sand dunes, the wind driving the cold rain into our faces. As Lois’ hiking pants became increasingly soaked, she regretted not having put on her rain pants! By the time we approached Sangatte, we were in need of warmth, despite the now clearing skies. We walked almost the entire length of the town (a war memorial included a Canadian flag), before finding a restaurant, Le Blanc Nez, with an impressive menu of local seafood. We enjoyed delicious soupe de poisson, salade de chèvre chaud and coffees, while our gloves and tube scarves dried on a nearby radiator.

Feeling well refreshed, we started the climb towards Le Cap Blanc Nez. It became stormier, now with a headwind of over 60km/h, which continued to batter us all the way to Wissant. At one point, Paul had to chase his hat over a fence and across a field. Just as he climbed back over the fence, Lois’ backpack rain-cover went flying. Luckily, it was quickly retrieved by a passerby, who Paul then helped back over the fence. Near the Dover Patrol Monument we were very nearly blown over! Stopping for a quick look at the Lindemann Batterie Lourde, a German gun battery which could fire across the Channel, we quickly made our way back down the hill, hoping in vain for some respite from the headwind. By the time we were trudging along the final stretch of beach, heads bent against the wind and blowing sand, we were exhausted and sadly not able to fully appreciate the stunning vistas for which this area is known. We finally stumbled into our hotel around 6 pm. As our room was up 3 flights of stairs, which Lois was reluctant to descend in order to find a meal, Paul gallantly went off in search of pizza pour emporter and a glass of wine for Lois.

A Bleriot XI
Les Bourgeois de Calais
Cap Blanc-Nez in the distance
Towards Wissant

Fauna notes: numerous Cuttlefish on the beach

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Sheperdswell to Dover 15.2 km

It was hard to pull away from the interesting conversation over breakfast this morning, with old friends and new – Krishna and David were also staying at Susanna’s. But, with blue skies beckoning, we set off with David and Anne for St. Andrew’s Church, for our pilgrim stamp and a search for the “green man” stone carving. We think we may have identified it…! Passing the Celtic cross war memorial, we made our way across fields and coppices on the North Downs Way, stopping to view a 17thC Palladian folly (a belvedere, unfinished) and associated modern sculpture, through Waldershare Park and past its stately home. At Ashley Sutton, while siting on a grassy bank, enjoying a break and Anne’s delicious nut cake, another walker approached, Kevin McCallister from Massachusetts (yes, “Home Alone” references were made!) on his way to Dover to complete another section of the VF (mid—France to Rome completed last year). Krishna and David soon joined us. Late morning, the clouds began to roll in and we donned our rain gear, although the rain held off until later. Just after crossing the A2, we encountered a temporary construction fence, which required a slight detour. Unfortunately, Krishna and David ended up having to climb the fence to get back on track! We then joined an old Roman road, which eventually brought us to the outskirts of Dover. We had our pilgrim passports stamped at St. Paul’s church, thanks to Krishna who went next door to get the custodian, and ended our walk together with a good lunch and well-needed coffees at Cafe Melange, a great find (thanks, Anne!). Krishna and David were spending the night in Dover, but we expect to meet up again along the way. David and Anne headed back to London. We so appreciated their company on the first two days of our walk. We hopped in a cab, stopping at Dover Castle for a quick photo, and then to the ferry dock, to board the 5:25 P&O ferry to Calais. With our passports stamped, the 90 day Schengen countdown begins!

St Andrew’s Sheperdswell
Monumenta Romana


Monday, April 10, 2023

Canterbury to Shepardswell – 17.35 km

It was a blustery wet day of walking, with the winds whipping across the North Downs and muddy tracks traversing fields – an appropriate initiation into the Via Francigena!

After a hearty breakfast at the House of Agnes (including Hot Cross Buns), the four of us headed off to find lunch items before stopping at the Cathedral to take photos. There we met another couple, Krishna and David, who were also just beginning the walk, having travelled here from Perth, Australia, and their friend, John, accompanying them as far as Shepherdswell.

We walked as a group for much of the route, which helped distract us from any fears or misgivings we might be feeling setting out on this journey. The route was well signposted for both the North Downs Way and the Via Francigena and on top of the Downs we found a relief map in wood of the entire route to Rome. We passed St. Augustine’s Abbey and stopped to walk around St. Martin’s Church, dating from Saxon times. At St Mary’s, a Norman Church in Patrixbourne, we found a stamp for our pilgim passport inside and enjoyed a few moments out of the rain. Paul was pleased to see some Oast houses (converted to residences) that are emblematic of Kent. On arriving in Shepherdswell, we had a very welcome cup of tea at the cafe of the East Kent Railway Trust, an old colliery train line. We were both feeling a little stiff after our first day’s walk, but Lois is very relieved that her hip has not given her any grief so far!

We repaired to local pub with Anne and David for dinner.

Flora – Cowslips



April 3 – 9, 2023

On our arrival at Heathrow early Monday morning, we headed off by train to Moreton-in-Marsh, a pretty Cotswold town where friends and family had kindly agreed to travel to meet up with us. Our journey to Moreton took much longer than expected due to a damaged viaduct on the main line to Oxford – a consequence of a very wet English March – however, once there, we had a most enjoyable week. The train disruption did mean that we were unable to travel down to London to meet up with Lene and Freddy, old friends from Denmark who were visiting their daughter and family.

We visited Batsford Arboretum with Martin (friend of Paul’s from medical school) and Grace, Paul’s sister Liz, our niece Catherine and grand-nephew Nathaniel. Over lunch with Chris (another medic colleague of Paul’s) and Sally, we heard about their Eco-housing venture as well as rural pursuits such as hedge laying and pollarding, later visiting the grounds of Sizencote House. With Martin, Grace and Liz, we picnicked in the rain (!) before touring Chastleton House – another National Trust gem. We caught up with some of Lois’ International Studies classmates – Angela and Jane joined us for brunch at No. 1 Cotswolds in Moreton and we met Sarah and Jenny for brunch at Artist Residence in London. We really appreciated the distance that everyone came to see us. Martin and Grace journeyed from Dundee in Scotland!

Sizencote House

Arriving in Canterbury yesterday, after checking into the House of Agnes (the Wickfield family residence in David Copperfield) we wandered down to the Cathedral precinct and found the stone marking the start of the Via Francigena. Further exploration resumed today after espresso, including the Roman wall, Norman castle and the spectacular Canterbury Cathedral.

We bought our Via Francigena Pilgrim Passport and have received our first stamp! Our friends, David and Anne, who will walk with us to Dover will arrive soon and we will all attend Easter Choral Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral this evening.

Wildlife Notes: Red Kites at Bashford

Sunday, April 2, 2023

We are currently in Ottawa airport, on our way to London, via Toronto. After a farewell dinner at 10 Acres in Sidney on Tuesday with Mish, Steve, Jade, Rhys and Emme, we flew to Ottawa early Wednesday morning, for a brief visit with Chris, Shinyoung, Alice and Eliot. While the minus temperatures were a bit of a shock after the cherry blossoms in Victoria, we have had a lovely time playing and reading with Alice and Eliot, eating delicious meals, walking in the snow, visiting a sugar bush and attending gymnastics and soccer practices.
We are looking forward to another week of visiting with friends and family in England,  before beginning our walk on Easter Monday.  Although we have not been able to do the training that we had planned (and begun, but abandoned due to Lois’ hip muscle strain), we are hoping that the exercises and some rest will have helped.