Weeks 2 and 3 Nantes to Saintes

After my rest days exploring Nantes and meeting some amazing people I have been met with mostly nothing but kindness along the trail.

My first day back on the road had me walking through some beautiful woodland that wound its way along a river, something the trail has done just about the entire way this section. I had a map for this part too - that always helps- but unfortunately it didn't have any grid lines for me to gauge distance with and wasn't great when it came to scale either - I've not been able to find a decent topographic in this country yet! I had arranged to stay with a local family in Clisson for the night to try and avoid the harsh winter weather that had caught up with me on my rest days. By my best guess I thought Clisson was only around 20km and shouldn't have been too hilly, pretty straightforward, right? So I had a chilled morning and set off around midday. I had to make it to the family by 20:00 otherwise they wouldn't take me in, which was no problem. When I arrived on the trail though I realised the reality was far from what the map had indicated. The trail wasn't the straight, flat path through the woods I was led to believe but a boggy, hilly mess that double backed on itself all day, had countless paths crossing it marked with the same trail markers and scenic routes that would take you on a loop back to the point you picked it up from! 


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After a very confusing, frustrating day I made it to Clisson at around 17:00 and tried to get in touch with my host - who had now decided that she wouldn't take me in and then proceeded to send me messages rubbing in the fact that I was going to have a long cold night ahead…

I was in the middle of a built up area at this point surrounded by private land. No good for camping in and everywhere was shut! So I had no choice but to try and find the poorly marked trail and follow it again in the dark until I could find water and a place to stay. After about three miles I found a place that looked like I might be able to hold out for the night in a field out the back of an abandoned factory near a river. I had flat ground to sleep on and a water source so I wasn't in too bad shape there - but I was very exposed and could feel it was going to be a very damp, cold, uncomfortable night already. I set up my tarp, got some water boiling, so I could sleep with a hot water bottle and have some tea before I slept and, of course, I had my evening meal to provide the calories needed to keep me warm throughout the night. I bedded down and thought that was the worst of it over. As long as I was up before sunrise no one would know I was there and I’d be sorted - right? Wrong! The smell of the food I had eaten drew some of the local stray dogs in so I spent most of the time I wasn't struggling to sleep, throwing sticks and anything else I could find at the noises in the dark. I kept my knife next to me all that night. Doesn't it just sound amazing!!

In the morning I woke up before the sun rose to a thin layer of frost and ice over me and all my kit. I packed everything down and quickly made a pot of tea and hot museli determined to put that shitty night in hell camp behind me and get going asap! First, though I had to head back into town to get some supplies and my pilgrimage stamp.

When I arrived there I found a homeless man huddled outside the store who looked like he was in just about as bad shape as me, so I decided to not just buy my food but also get some eggs, coffee and bread and go share breakfast with him... I was really feeling bad for the guy! After we'd eaten and had a laugh trying to communicate through sign language my morale, and I’m sure his, was pretty high! I was just about to try and find a stamp when a woman who had watched this whole thing happen came out of a shop opposite and invited us both to go to her house and warm up over some coffee and cakes! We both went and it turned out she had her own personalised Camino stamp! After collecting my stamp I left with a full belly, dry kit and a huge caffeine buzz, feeling pretty good with everything - but I had a long way to go and not a lot of time to make it!

Again the trail was in a poor state and eventually I lost it all together, forcing me into a road march that not only was less direct but also destroyed my feet! Luckily I made it to town with time to collect my stamp and chill a bit as I'd found another host. I had a lot better feeling about these guys, so was looking forward to a warm bed, somewhere to dry things properly and a chance to charge my batteries. I couldn't see the village I needed to go to on my amazing, top end map so decided to use the map on my phone for the first time; it said they were only two miles away - it lied!! That was easily the longest two miles I have ever walked, taking almost three hours - definitely not a two mile walk! Anyway, I met Gwena in town and we made our way to their beautiful little home that he'd made himself, played with his dog, Bombor, and had a beer while we waited for Carole to come home from work. We talked, listened to music, shared stories, sorted out my kit and ate. They were incredible hosts and great friends. So great I stayed another day with them! It was their friend’s birthday that night so we all went and they were all great people too! We ate, played some local games, had a hilarious time trying to translate between us and drank a little too much...

The next day was a very hard one to wake up to but I had to get back on the trail! Leaving Carole she gave me a handmade bracelet and all their contact details, which was great! I walked along a very nice section of the trail for a change and, partly because of the beauty, partly because of the headache, I set up camp by a nearby lake chilled out and drank loads of tea reading my book in camp with the wildlife coming in all around me and I loved it! Best camp so far and the best hosts...  Highlight of my pilgrimage so far easily! 

In the morning I checked my map for the next check point and it looked very small and very close - only about 10km away - but the name had an e missing off the end; oh well that must have just been my mistake when writing the names in my note book. I took it easy again, having a wash in my mess kit, making tea and did a little fishing before heading off - cushty morning!

However, when I arrived at the place I thought was the checkpoint it was a house... I knocked anyway to see if I was in the right place and in my defence I was! But it wasn't the checkpoint - that was on the other side of the map!  A full marathon away with only 4 hours of light left! Goddamn it!! Well, I figured if I run I might just make it in time and be able to stay with my next host, so that's exactly what I did - I ran my first ever marathon with boots and all my equipment through a wooded track! I still have no idea how I managed that, but I arrived in time to get my stamp from a bar and meet my host, Pascal. And as any good athlete would do I spent the night talking, drinking local beer and eating just about everything offered - I also had pigeon stew for the first time!

This time I’d learnt my lesson and got an early start - just in case. I said goodbye to Pascal and set off through the woods and into farmland, not the most exciting day, scenery wise, but it was flat, well-marked and easy to cover miles! I had no more hosts arranged so covered two days objectives and started looking for a camp. While I was doing this I found a sign that translated as “pilgrims stop, pilgrims welcome” or something like that and decided to investigate... It turned out to be a joke. While searching though I met Stephanie, one of the nicest women I have ever met! She didn't speak any English but she took me in and fed me while she got in touch with the local nuns to see if they could help out.  I ended up spending most of the night with her and her boy Flo, again having a great time trying to translate everything before the nuns gave me a key to a flat which was being decorated, said I was welcome any time after it was finished and let me sleep in the Sunday school room!

Unfortunately I lost that key the next day on one of my coffee breaks but I think on the return trip I'll stop by anyway and bring them some souvenirs…

In the morning I was getting ready for an early start again when Stephanie came knocking inviting me to breakfast where I ate a wad of pancakes the size of my head! She made me a packed lunch too and walked me to the edge of the forest to make sure I was ok - a true trail angel!

That day I managed to walk even further with all the rest and food in me covering three days objectives! Again all very flat boring scenery but I was getting miles under my belt so I was happy!

The day ended with me walking along a canal wondering where I was going to camp when I noticed a post box with the Camino sign on it and shells all over the house so I figured that was as good a place as any to ask for directions. Turned out these people took pilgrims in and fed them! I couldn't believe my luck again! I stayed with them, eating a ridiculous amount of cheese. Unfortunately the cheese was unpasteurized and the next day I was terribly sick. That day it was raining and warm in wet lands so there were bugs eating me alive just about all day - it was awful. I made it to my next objective and can you believe it another trail angel appeared and took me in!

This was the day before Remembrance Day. He noticed me as I was wearing a regimental shirt, that my friend Leo had kindly given to me in Nantes, and that he was once a member of. It turned out his son had also died serving in the same regiment so we had a very quiet few days paying our respects and getting to know each other. It's a Remembrance I’ll never forget.

When I left him it was raining again. Harder than ever and it stayed that way all day! I was taken in once by an older man along the trail for a moments respite from the weather and some coffee before heading on. I arrived in Surgeres confident in the fact that there was a pilgrim house somewhere in town. It's pretty hard to get solid info when you don't speak the language and unfortunately I was wrong again - it was a priest’s house I was looking at! Luckily I met some amazing women from Paris who helped me find a camp site that was still open. They gave me their numbers to stay with them when I’m all done with the hike - this is turning into one hell of a return journey!!

I went to the campsite and luckily enough it was empty. The man on the desk liked me enough to let me pay the pilgrimage price for a camp plot and then let me use a caravan instead.

In the morning I knew I had a long way to go so decided to cook up what I have now dubbed my mountain man breakfast of 3 potatoes, 2 eggs, an onion and pate all topped with mystery cheese... about a kilo of goodness!

I set off on the trail. I’d walked off my map a long time ago and unfortunately someone had decided to go around and either smash, uproot or turn around all the signs so again it was going to be a 30km road march! Not much happened that day until I was just about in town when I heard a little boy practicing his English and decided to go and say hello to see his reaction – speechless is an understatement! After talking to him and his mum a while and explaining what I was doing she asked me what I was going do when I hit Saintes so, jokingly, I said spread my message of happiness and get a fat kebab! She then gave me 10 euros and said she wanted to buy me the kebab for being so nice to her boy... Sweet!!

So, I'd made it to Saintes, had the promise of a free kebab, another great story behind me, and was now officially a third of the way through my journey and most of the way through France. I was feeling pretty indestructible at this point...

…Unfortunately that was quickly proven wrong by a driver that must have taken a special interest in my fluorescent green jacket or been too slow with his brakes as I ended up in a ditch! A few days rest in a hostel unfortunately didn’t ease the pain in my leg so after seeking medical advice I have now been forced to take a week’s minimum rest - Doctors’ orders…

Other than that mild drama this section has been incredible and I have just been taken in by another incredible person offering me a place to stay for the whole week!

I would like to remind everyone that I am only on rest days - I have not quit and still fully intend to finish this journey.

So please give me that extra bit of encouragement by making this all worthwhile and remembering why I am doing this by donating to the Luyando Support Group  luyandosupportgroup.Squarespace.com

Thanks for reading!

Happy Hobo out!