Well guys that’s the first 250 km down and it’s only been 7 hiking days! It's been an absolutely amazing week full of ups and downs, testing times and very, very rewarding moments - not to mention all of the unexpected things this journey has bought me that I could never have planned for but am slowly getting used to and starting to love more and more.
So let's start from the top!
Day one on the trail took me from a small farm in Lassay, where a friend’s family took me in for a week to get into the rhythm and start my French lessons, that I have been doing pretty appallingly at! But now I can say cheese, bread knife and thank you and can count to ten so I’m pretty much set to live in France now!
From Lassay I met a Professor from Rennes that kindly agreed to drive me to Avranch, a town close to le Mont Saint-Michel, but along the way, after teaching me about the native architecture and traditions and sharing our travel stories, he agreed to drop me off as close to Mont Saint-Michel as he could! And things have just been getting better since then…
When I started walking to the island itself I had a crazy mix of emotions running through me, I was kind of in shock how quickly it had all come around so it didn't feel quite real, I was nervous about how things might play out over the coming months and if I’d get searched when I got to the church, but most of all I was excited - to see if I could do the whole thing; about the people I have, and have still yet to, meet; and about all the things I will see and learn along the way.
When I got to the summit of the island and got the first stamp that officially marks the beginning of the Santiago de Compostela trail I got more of a send-off than I could have imagined! I had the woman who gave me the stamp come out from behind her desk and give me a kiss and hug good luck; I had some Japanese tourists pass me a flag to hold while they took their photo with me; Americans wishing me luck and saying how crazy I am and, after all that was done, I learnt that no one has completed the entire pilgrimage in one go during the winter in the past 3 years… Sh*t I didn't know that!
After learning that I went back outside, had a coffee on the steps to the church and just stared at the salt flats in front of me thinking about what could be ahead of me. But I had to get moving quickly if I was going to make it to Saint James before sunset.
I had accepted a few challenges from friends back home before leaving, one of them being to do this with no map so I set off trying to find someone who might know where the trail began and how I could get to town.
It took a while but after getting some directions that made semi sense I set off across farm land and through small villages to Saint James where I met my first hosts. My shoulders were hurting and I was exhausted but they had made fresh pasta and cooked steaks to perfection to celebrate my arrival so moral was instantly lifted again! I was wondering how I would feel in the morning when it was time to set off again but woke up to Pamila grinding coffee and making breakfast which I wasn't expecting so I was up again without really thinking about it and ended up dancing and singing AC/DC before I left so she did a great job raising moral again and getting me in the mind-set to take on the day!
On the way to Antrain it was much the same as the first day struggling to get directions but having a great time trying to figure it all out and setting out into the farm land again except this time it was a lot more hilly and tiring. This was also where I started getting trouble with my socks, another challenge I was set was to do this all as cheap as possible so I don't have the most durable or light equipment and my socks started to wear away giving me hotspots and blisters.
When I arrived at the church this time though it was abandoned, there was no one to give me the stamp I needed! So I spent the next hour trying to find someone who knew where to go and ended up getting the stamp in a post office after trying to explain for ages what I was doing only to find out the priest had arrived back at the church while I was doing all of this! After finally getting my stamp I went to meet Emmanuel my next host. She just wanted to talk and talk all night - until she got hungry then it was cheese wine and bad music time! She was great too and I still keep in daily contact with her.
In the morning she showed me to the Compostela trail again that was much more enjoyable walking than the past few days. This time it followed a river through town then went into the hills and woods, I didn't see anything but deer all day until I hit my next checkpoint at Sens de Bretagne where I had no accommodation booked. When I arrived at the church the priest offered for me to stay in the church for the night which I agreed to but said that I wanted to explore and grab something to eat before I bedded down for the night, which he agreed to, so without thinking anything of It I ditched my kit and started to explore.. About an hour later I arrived back at the church to find everything locked and my bag sitting in the doorway! The priest had just locked me out and gone home! Leaving me with no choice to bivvi out in some woods nearby which sucked to say the least...
In the morning I woke up covered in frost and eager to get going and warm again. Unfortunately it was a Sunday so everything was shut down, I walked through two towns that looked like something out of the apocalypse - not even a dog was barking in town, they were completely dead! It was raining sideways all day, so needless to say I was feeling pretty down but that soon changed after meeting my next hosts. I spent the next 4 days in Melesse in a student house, keeping warm and dry and trying to play various Balkan instruments with the guys there while I waited for my stove to arrive from England.
Unfortunately I had to move on before my stove arrived because of a lack of space in the house but luckily it arrived the day I left and Jo, the host, drove it out to me as a surprise and bought everyone from the house along for one last emotional goodbye before I set off again in the morning.
I spent the next few days hiking through countless villages and woodlands, camping the whole way and having numerous close calls with boars and other wildlife and being eaten alive by what seems like every bug in France.
All to end this section of the hike on Halloween with one giant 30 mile hike to Nantes so that I could meet a very good old friend Leo and have a party with him and his friends - eating some fresh roadkill deer and spending hours catching up, drinking and swopping souvenirs and gifts.
So far it’s been an incredible journey over the first 250km. It's been challenging at times but overall I wouldn't change it for the world, next stop Saintes…