Saturday 30 August.
It was raining on and off when we got up this morning. The sky was just a total gray shade of cloud, not very promising. We started off with just our rain jackets on but later when there was a particularly heavy spell out came our waterproof trousers. It was nearly 8:30am when we got away, just coffee with bread and jam to keep us going. There was free wifi at the site and I managed to post my blog and download the newspaper at the restaurant area on the way out.
Last night before going to bed Moira read out the instructions for today's route and I wrote them down in my small note book. We didn't have to return to the town to pick up route, Cicerone gave instructions from the campsite to join up with the road from town further along. Except for a stretch of about 2km that was on a gravel track between fields, it was all on tarred roads. Fortunately they were all minor roads with very little traffic. The rain dampened our spirits a bit but the roads undulating up hills, down the other side and through valleys helped to brighten us with views that when the misty rain cleared were at times quite outstanding. The crops from most of the fields had been harvested, all that was remaining was the stocks of the various crops. The only thing still to be reaped was maize and there were of it growing. They probably weren't in a hurry as it is just used for cattle feed in France.
We went through a series of small villages with only a short distance, from 2 to 4 kilometres between them, Alquines, La Buisson, Bouvallinghem, Westbecourt, Acquin-Westbecourt, Lauwerdal, Quelmes, Leulinghem, before reaching our destination of Wisques. None of the villages seemed to have any shops or even a bar where we could stop for a coffee out of the rain. We resorted to a bus shelter with a seat in Bouvallinghem where I brewed up some coffee on our cooker. In the hamlet of Acquin-Westbecourt we took a wrong turning and stopped to check the original instructions and map on the iPad. A postman who was collecting mail from a post box asked: 'Estes-vous marchez ?' 'Oui' I replied in my best school French, 'a Roma'. He was very impressed and I gave him one of our cards.
Just before entering Wisques we came to the Abbaye St Paul. This was the one we asked the owner of the campsite last night to phone to make reservations for us, but unfortunately he couldn't get through. We went into the grounds but everything was locked up and no sign of life. As we were leaving a car pulled in but the driver said that there wasn't any accommodation at the abbey. We decided to try the other abbey, Notre Dame, but our guide book said in was for women only. It was right at the top of the town and when walked towards the front door of a very impressive huge French chateau style of structure with towers and turrets a nun came out. This was Sister Lucy who was mentioned in an accommodation list we have. It said she was very friendly and a happy sort of person. Indeed she was, exceptionally charming and immediately took us to a house on the grounds for pilgrims. It had three or four bedrooms and we got one on the ground floor. There was a kitchen where we made a cup of coffee and the shower was excellent with piping hot water. The abbey also supplied meals, we would be having dinner and breakfast. This was all for a donation.
For the rest of the afternoon we sat in our room, reading and relaxing with numerous cups of coffee until dinner time. As we strolled up to the abbey another woman came out of the guest house, she was in one of the upstairs rooms. She knew the ropes and led us to a small dining room in the magnificent-stately-home abbey. Another couple and two ladies joined us for dinner, the others were there for a quiet religious weekend. The meal was basic but good, soup, sausages in batter with carrots and rice, cheese, and plums for dessert. There was also a choice of red or white wine. After the meal we went into the church and sat in a side chapel where we could only get a glimpse of the splendour of the architecture and stained glass windows. Somewhere in the main part of the church the nuns were assembled and began singing and chanting. We didn't have a clue what was happening but the sounds were beautiful and awe inspiring. After 15 minutes it was over and we made our 'Bon nuit' and headed to our room and bed.
Sunday 31 August.
We both slept very well last night, the place was so peaceful and quiet. When I got up I made a cup of coffee in the kitchen and we drank it as I copied out today's route. We were heading for the town of Therouanne, only a fairly short hop of 12 km. Because it was an easy day we didn't rush to get away and had a leisurely breakfast in the guest house kitchen with the rest of the guests. Sister Lucy was there to ply us with toast and coffee, she chatted away with the others in their limited English to keep us involved on the conversation. Their English was much better than our French. After breakfast Sister Lucy wanted a photograph taken with us and I got one of the women to take some with my camera. It had been a wonderful stay and everyone had been so friendly and helpful.
It was 9:30am when we eventually got going. The weather was a big change from yesterday, there were lots of blue patches in the sky and it was much warmer. It was another day on tar roads, all minor and not any traffic to worry about. Today it went through three little villages not spaced far apart, Wizernes, Helfaut, and Inghem. The countryside was open as the roads made their way through more farmlands where the crops had been gathered in. A few ups had us breathing heavily but mostly we were able to stride out on long flat sections. The views were good and the mainly flat aspect allowed us to see for some distance.
After 2 hours we reached Inghem and it was time for a break. There was a convenient bus shelter where we were able to sit down and make a cup of coffee on the cooker. Once on the go again it was only an hour's walking to the finish for the day in Therouanne. We were staying at a 'gite' or pilgrim's hostel in the town. The owners of a local B&B had built it a few years ago and it had 6 beds. It was on the main street near the town centre and we found it easily enough but it was locked and we were required to contact the owners at their B&B. That was more difficult to find and one passer-by who I asked for directions wasn't any help. We decided to go to a bar we passed earlier and enquire there but on the way I found the road by accident; it was called the Rue du Moulin or Mill St and there was a water mill on the River Lys that we crossed on the way to the bar. There we saw Alain Millamon who gave us the code for the electronic lock on the gite door and supplied us with some milk for coffee.
The gite was luxury. It was spotless and had a fully equipped kitchen. The room we were in had three single beds where we dumped our bags. We decided to go out and have lunch at one of the bars we had passed at the entrance to town. When we got there two were closed and the third was just a pub and didn't do food. They told us that everything closed on a Sunday at mid-day. So the supermarket was closed as well. Fortunately Moira had some pasta in her bag with tomato purée, so that was going to have to do for dinner. When we returned to the gite we had bread and cheese for lunch and decided to have dinner at our normal time. After showering in lovely hot water in luxury tiled bathrooms, Moira washed our sweaty t-shirts and socks. It was the first opportunity to get things dried. There was a washing line outside and it was still sunny and warm.
Alian and his wife Patricia came round later to see how we were doing. He said there was a bar/restaurant at the far end of town that opened in the evening and there were bikes in the garage we could use if it was too far to walk. He stamped our credentials and put a pin in a map of the world, he had on the wall, near Glasgow. He had pins for all the visitors to the gite s nice opening a year ago and there were from all over the world; mostly from Europe but a few from the States and Australia and even one person from Cape Town. They told us there was some tinned food and wine in the cupboard with prices, if we wanted anything and to put the money in the 'honesty' piggy bank. Accommodation at the gite cost us €40.
We decided to just stay in and eat. Moira made the pasta and added a tin of tuna that was in the cupboard. We also bought a bottle of their red wine to wash down our meal. There was a radio and I managed to tune into BBC Radio4 on the long wave, so we got up to date with the news. Even though it had been a short day's walk we were both very tired and went to bed early. Moira lay reading for some time but I was soon off to sleep.