Monday 1 September.
I made a cup of tea and we lay reading in bed until about 7am. When packed we had our breakfast, bread and jam and another cup of tea. We were heading for the town of Amettes today and last night Alain had phoned a B&B there to book us in. He said there was cooking facilities but no shops, if we wanted to cook a meal to get provisions before we left in the morning. There was a supermarket across from the gite and when it opened at 8am Moira went shopping. She got some chicken legs for a curry and also got some eggs. She hard boiled the eggs, we had two of them before we left. It had been a very nice place to stay and if more gites like this open up along the route then the Via Francigena will become as popular as the Camino de Santiago.
Today was more tarred road walking except for about 2 km at the end which was on unsurfaced tracks through maize fields. It was another fine day, a little misty when started off but it soon cleared resulting in a clear blue sky and warm sunshine. We can't understand how our guide book calculates the distances between the villages along the route. Today the distance from Therouanne to the first village of Enquinegatte was given as 5km we got there in 30 minutes, next was Enquin-les-Mines, 2.5km another 20 minutes. That was 7.5km covered in under an hour, we weren't walking that fast. The remaining 11km took a bit longer and nearer the 4km/hour that we take as our normal pace.
We stopped at a bus shelter for a rest on leaving Enquin-les-Mains before tackling a steep hill. The road became very minor from there and went through maize fields. It passed through little communities that had built up around farms. One was called La Transvaal and was right in the middle of the 'mealie' fields bringing back memories of South Africa. On coming to the next major village, Ligny-les-Aire. It was time for another break and we found a convenient bench outside the church. The coffee was brewed and Moira made some bread and cheese to keep as going. We visited the church but only the porch was open though we could see through a glass partition the inside which was small and not very attractive. It was then the final 5km, fairly accurate, finishing on the rough track into Amettes.
The address of the B&B was Rue d'Eglise, Church St., so we headed for the church with the tall spire we could see on top of the hill. When we got there none of the streets were named after it but a woman in a shop who spoke a little English directed us to Mne. Gevas's house. That is the benefit of small villages, everyone knows one another. After climbing up the hill it was down the other side and the street wasn't anywhere near a church.
The house was a large old farmhouse, but no farm; it was in the centre of the town. There was a large courtyard with rooms on all sides. Mne. Gevas was charming and immediately took us to our room. It was another gite attached to the B&B and we got a double bed in a dorm with a couple of bunks, with an attached toilet and shower room. After dumping out bags Mne. G. took us back to her sitting room and supplied us with a bottle of beer to refresh us after our hot walk. After documentation and our credentials stamped she suggested accommodation for tomorrow in the town of Bruay. This town is slightly off our route but the alternative is a long stretch of nearly 30km. I was still worried about my back and we decided to just do the short distance to Bruay even if it was a slight detour. Mne. G. phoned the B&B there and we are booked in; let's hope it also has a gite attached.
When we got back to our room we had lunch. More bread and cheese, two of the hard boiled eggs and some fruit that Moira bought this morning at the supermarket. Then is was a shower, plenty of hot water, before relaxing on the bed reading for a couple of hours. We didn't leave our room but relaxed until Moira made a nice chicken and mushroom curry for dinner. Again she didn't have any rice and boiled what was left of the pasta to go with it.
After washing up I did a crossword then we lay on the bed and read until it was time to go to sleep. It was another peaceful place and we slept well.
Tuesday 2 September.
When I got up this morning to make a cup of tea the kitchen smelt strongly of the curry we had last night. I hope Mne. G. doesn't object to it smelling like an Indian restaurant. We read then I copied out the route as far as Divion, that was where we were to make a detour into Bruay to the B&B for the night. It was breakfast time when I got finished.
It was a light breakfast of yoghurt, coffee and toast that was very nice. Mne. G. photo-copied the street map for Bruay and marked the location of Mne. Jones' guest house. It was quite a distance from Divion but our route in total it was still only about 15km for the day. When Moira was paying the bill, €34 total, I found out there was WiFi and got the password. It was a mixture of letters and numbers and about 20 digits long, I wouldn't have thought that amount of security was necessary. I made a mistake putting it in but managed on a second attempt, Moira got into her mini iPad straight away. We both downloaded three day's newspapers then I went back to the room and posted a blog. In the email there was a donation from Gavin's brother Brian for £50, many thank.
Before we got going there was a photo session and Mne. G. wanted a picture of us. I took one of her and Moira together, then we were off. We backtracked up the hill to the church where the Cicerone guide took us to yesterday and picked up the route again from there. Before leaving we had a look inside the church; the windows were beautiful and the sunshine passing through the stained glasses cast a multi-coloured spectrum over the walls. As the same time there was somebody playing the organ and it was a most peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. Opposite the church was the birthplace of Saint-Benoit Labry, one of the patron saints of pilgrims, who died in poverty on the steps of a church in Rome in 1783. Over the wall in the grounds of the house were the stations of the cross around the edges of the lawn and the scene from the crucifixion with three large crosses.
It was now 9:30am and time to get moving. It was down the other side of the hill where we picked up an unmade track that took us to the village of Aumerval. The weather had improved even more, the sky was blue and not a cloud in sight. It would have been very hot for walking if it hadn't clouded over later in the morning and provided some nice shade. It was nearly all on unsurfaced tracks or narrow lanes today, and we were well away from any traffic until we reached Camblain Chatelain. It was mostly through more fields of tall green stocks of maize and another reminder of South Africa was mine dumps. They appeared in the distance after the village of Floringham. The guide book says that formerly this was a very active mining area but doesn't say what mineral was being mined but later I found out it was coal mining.
When we reached Camblain Chatelain we had a long walk along the busy D70; fortunately there was a broad pavement so we were able to avoid the traffic. Just before the by-pass round Bruay we headed up a steep hill that took us into Divion. Just before reaching the town there was a lovely park beside a stream where we stopped and decided it was lunch time. As we reckoned it was only a short walk to Bruay and our bed for the night we sat on the bench after lunch and read, the paper that I downloaded this morning, for an hour.
From the park it was another steep climb to reach the busy D941 that we would follow all the way through Bruay. It was far far longer than I thought. First it was over a kilometre to clear Divion to a quieter area before going under the ring road that we had passed earlier. After that we were into Bruay another long busy town and it was about an hour before we cut off to find Mne. Jones' house. Again we were lucky to have a broad pavement all the way to walk on and there is a good supply of zebra crossings at busy junctions, and the drivers religiously obey them.
When we reached Rue Benjamin Perret we were looking for No.38. We came to No.30 and thought we were close but then the next one was No.56 and the following one No.96. We were mystified and asked man who was working on his car. He didn't know but phoned Mne. Jones for us. She came out of her house only a few doors away and waved, we headed that way. How does one explain that yesterday we were able to get directions to a particular house some distance away in a village but in a large town people don't know who lives only a few doors away.
Mne. Jones was with her daughter in the garden and we sat with them after dumping our bags. She said we must be tired and hot and would we like a drink. I though it would be a bottle of beer like yesterday but it was only water. The place wasn't luxury but it was nice enough. We had a small room downstairs with a double bed. The toilet was a distance away on the other side of the house, it's going to be an adventure in the middle of the night. There wasn't a shower cubicle just a hand held shower in the bath. I stood up in the bath and showered trying not to flood the place.
Michele (Mne. Jones) offered us a cup of tea and we sat out in the garden. She said she had married an Englishman from London thus the name Jones, but he hadn't taught her how to make tea. We got an inch in the bottom of a large cup and it was a very pale yellow colour. Moira went out later to the shops to get biscuits and bought a couple of beers which we had in our room, much more refreshing.
Dinner was at 7pm and we had soup, a green colour probably spinach, then roast chicken, potatoes, carrots and string beans. For sweet it was chunks of melon. She gave us coffee to finish and this was in tiny little cups. It was all right but nothing special.
After dinner we went to our room and lay on the bed and read until it was time to go to sleep. Moira left our torches out so that we could find our way to the toilet during the night in the dark. I managed it without tripping over things.
Wednesday 3 September.
This is the start of our second week. We haven't quite made our intended average of 20 km/day but we are getting stronger and should be able to gradually increase the distance each day
Breakfast this morning was bread, cheese, and jam. We had coffee and this time it was in huge cups so it was a decent sizes drink. Michele didn't have a stamp for our credentials and just wrote something instead to prove we had been there. She only asked for a donation and Moira put in €50, she seemed happy with that. Once we were all packed and ready to go I took a photograph then Michele drove us back to the route.
She didn't take us to where we left it yesterday on the Cicerone route but dropped us on the GR145/Via Francigena waymarked path. We had checked on a guide for the GR that Michele had at the house and the two routes joined at the next village of Houdain. The GR path looked as if it had been an old railway line. It was wide and flat and made its way through an archway of overhanging trees. We could hear traffic but it was somewhere in the distance. It was about 3 km of easy peaceful walking before we reached the village of Houdain. After a while I was able to match up where we were to the description of the route I had copied from our guide this morning. It was now out in open country and it still coincided with the GR route but when reaching Rebreuve Ranchicourt the two route again deviated.
Before entering Olhain, the next village, we stopped at a bus shelter and made a cup of coffee. I checked the route I had written out and suspected there was something missing. I checked the description on the iPad and the route distances. There was a village not mention in the description after Olhain, it was called Cambligneul and this added an extra 6km to our day's journey. I thought today's distance seemed short.
When we got going again and through the village of Olhain with a fine old 15th Century Chateau, spoiled for photographs by a huge crane in the grounds, we were searching for a turn off through the fields. The grassy path we were to look for was just after the D73 junction and went up beside a house. We couldn't see any indication of the D73 and came to another village not mentioned in our book. Luckily we hadn't gone far before realising that we were wrong and turned back. There were roadworks taking place at a turning and one of the men who spoke English told us that the road which we had taken to be a new one being constructed was actually the D73. We checked a little further along the road and there was the house and the grassy path running beside it.
We were back on track and it was a pleasant hike through fields and open country. The weather was again fine after a misty start and it was beginning to get warm. The track was overgrown in places and at other parts muddy but we were able to stride out. The problem with our guide book is when we get off-road; in towns and even out of towns there are road numbers, signposts and street names that are used to direct us; but in open country where lots of tracks meet and criss-cross you have to have your wits about you and watch you don't take a wrong turning. We were successful and didn't go wrong as the earthen track made it way eventually to meet a tarred road at Cambligneul.
It was now after 1pm and we were thinking about lunch but had nothing with us to eat. We hadn't passed any shops to even get a baguette and now even if we found any shops they would now be closed. Suddenly at a cross roads what had appeared at first to be a road maintenance worker's hut turned out to be a roadside snack bar. We now had lunch, a hamburger and salad halved between us, a bag of chips and a cold drink each. It was expensive at €10 but we didn't have any alternatives. We ate in a bus shelter nearby; these bus stops are coming in very handy.
It was now only 2km to our stop for the night in Camblain d'Abbe. We were staying at a boarding school, Ecole Saint-Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, that had room for pilgrims in the school infirmary. Michele had phoned yesterday for us and made reservations. When we got there it was as expected dead, nobody to be seen. We made for a small building with a open door and found a room with a sign on the door, 'reserve pour pelegrins'; there were two beds and somebody was sleeping on one of them. We went back into the hallway and to wait for somebody to turn up. Eventually a priest arrived and he went for another priest who was in charge of the pilgrims. He took us to the room reserved for pilgrims and woke up the guy who was sleeping his lunch off. We were in and the priest couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. He apologised for the place not being ready for us and started to clean out the bathroom, then he got us each a coke and some biscuits to have while he went to have our credentials stamped. After telling us, that dinner was at 7pm and showing where the dining room was he. Left us to look after ourselves.
After showering it was an afternoon of laying on the bed and reading. I wrote up a blog ready for posting but unfortunately there wasn't any WiFi. At 7pm as instructed we headed for the dining room. It was a large dining hall for the school but it was deserted and there was nobody in the kitchen. We wandered about for 15 minutes or so and were ready to give up when the priest we met earlier arrive with a small trolley and our meal. He said that the school had 200 boys but they were still on holiday, the book had remarked that during holidays no food was provided; we must have been privileged. The meal was very good, there was a ham omelette and salad, bread with cheese or pâté, a cream caramel for dessert and a half bottle of red wine. It was very enjoyable.
We returned to the beds in the infirmary after that and lay reading. I was very tired and went to sleep about 9pm and slept like a log. It was another peaceful and quiet place.
Thursday 4 September.
I was awake at 5:30am and lay reading until Moira woke about an hour later. I made a cup of tea using the Camping Gaz cooker. It took nearly an hour this morning to write out the route, it was very complicated heading into the city of Arras with lots of twists and turns. When we were all packed up later, about 8am, expecting other people to be up and about we went into the dining hall to see if there was any sign of breakfast. The place was dead and the food left over from dinner last night was still there. We decided we would eat later along the trail and headed off. Moira put a good donation in the box at the reception area.
Coming out from the school we were on the D341 again along this busy road all the way to Mont Saint-Eloi. It wasn't too bad at first as there was a pavement but as we left Camblain d'Abbe that disappeared and we had to be careful with the heavy rush hour traffic. As we approached the town, along a long straight road, we could see the ruins of a 17th Century abbey on a hill high above the town. The abbey had been founded by Irish monks. Just as we were coming into Mont Saint-Eloi we got relief from the cars and trucks as the route now followed a GR trail beside a grassy field to come out at the quiet village of Ecoivees. There was a convenient bus shelter and we took advantage to stop for our delayed breakfast. We had a piece of bread, some cheese, a couple of biscuits and a mini chocolate coconut bar to go with our tea. From that point the ruins of the old abbey stood out clearly on the hill and it was worth a photograph. It was another nice day, when we were walking along the road earlier it had been a cloudless clear blue sky and very warm but not it was beginning to cloud over. Fortunately not rain clouds.
From then it was a very pleasant walk as the route coincided with the GR trail to Arras. It followed a railway line for a few kilometres at first, going from one side to the other by bridge or level crossing. At one level crossing, coming into Maroeuil, Moira remarked that she thought track wasn't in use as it was overgrown with grass and weeds. She was wrong, just as we reached the other side the lights began flashing, the gates closed and a train thundered through.
Going through Maroeuil our guide book said to cross a bridge over the river La Scarpe. It was only a small bridge and the river no more than a stream but we followed this river through fields and parks for some time and it got bigger in size. At one point the book told us to go under a iron archway and I was looking for an ancient engraved and sculptured monument; it turned out to be a height restriction barrier to stop the likes of motorhomes entering a carpark near the river.
After the district of Louez we left the river and onto a track that soon became a tree lined path. Now the route was becoming a bit complicated as we entered a large park on the outskirts of Arras. When I was writing the details out this morning they didn't make sense and I was hoping that once we reached these particular sections it would all become clear. Fortunately it did and we found our way through a multitude of paths and trail in the park. We only came to grief when we exited the park and reached a large roundabout with about 5 or 6 exit points. We walked round them all and none corresponded to the street name I was looking for. Instead we followed the sign directing us to 'Centre Ville'.
It was now 12:30pm and we rushed to get into the centre of Arras before everything closed for lunch. I asked people for directions to the Tourist Info Office and everyone was helpful and understood what I wanted. We eventually found it and it was still open. The woman phoned the Maison Diocesaine Saint Vaast, a religious concern that had 24 rooms and catered for pilgrims. There was no reply and she thought they would be at lunch and to come back at 2pm and she would try again. She gave me a map and marked the location of the 'Maison'.
We walked back to a small park that I noticed when we were looking for the info office. On the way Moira bought bread, fruit and a couple of beers and we sat on a bench in this park and had our lunch. I checked the map and found that we were three quarters of the way to the 'Maison' so decided to walk there first and check it out. We were in luck, it was open and they had a room, not one of the cheap ones but an en suite expensive one but still only €24 each. We decided to spend two nights and have a day to walk round Arras.
The room was fine and after we relaxed for an hour Moira decided to walk back to a small supermarket and get something for dinner. I showered and wrote up my blog for posting. There isn't any WiFi in the 'Maison' but hopefully we will find something in the city tomorrow. For dinner we had a picnic in the room, cold roast chicken, tomato and sweet corn, goats cheese on bread and an apple. There was also a bottle of nice red wine to wash it all down. After that we read until bedtime and tomorrow we will see the sights of Arras.