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Archive for January, 2009

Me and Richard, confidant and bold at the beginning of our pilgrimage

Me and Richard, confidant and bold at the beginning of our pilgrimage

Ghislain entertains us with food, wine and beer. He later gave us a page each from a saint's prayer book.

Ghislain entertains us with food, wine and beer. He later gave us a page each from a saint's prayer book.

 

Richard broke into this little cabin by ingeniously wiggling his hand through a gap below the window and undoing the catch. We left them a message with this blog address on it, so if this is you, merci bien pour l'abri, et s'il vous plait, pressez pas des charges.

Richard broke into this little cabin by ingeniously wiggling his hand through a gap below the window and undoing the catch. We left them a message with this blog address on it, so if this is you, merci bien pour l'abri, et s'il vous plait, pressez pas des charges.

Dany, who cooked us breakfast, walked with us for a whole day's worth (pushing his bike) and sent us on our way with a selection of energy treats. A thoroughly good egg.

Dany, who cooked us breakfast, walked with us for a whole day's worth (pushing his bike) and sent us on our way with a selection of energy treats. A thoroughly good egg.

 

This is the entrance to the barn where we slept. Notice how there's not really a door and also notice how there are cows below us. It was pretty cold, even though I put my tent up inside.

This is the entrance to the barn where we slept. Notice how there's not really a door and also notice how there are cows below us. It was pretty cold, even though I put my tent up inside.

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Half of Belgium

Obviously I’d like to bang on for ages and ages about all our wacky adventures so far, and obviously you’d like me to but I’m probably going to run out of time. We’re staying with a family who have generously let us sleep in their barn, above the totally alive cows no less, and I get the feeling that we’re about to have dinner or something. Oh dear I seem to have wasted my precious time wittering away and now I’m being talked to. N’importe quoi. I’ll carry on.

Walking

The walking has gone pretty well I reckon. Richard worked out how long each country should take before we left and it came out at two weeks for Belgium. After one week we seem to be half way across it, so we’re going OK. We’re doing about 8 miles a day which is a little bit less than I thought we were going to be doing, but Richard did some calculations and discovered that even if we carry on at the same speed we’ll get there at the same time we had planned, slightly before Christmas.

Equipment

My new tent is totally excellent. It spurns water and I can even put it up in a barn (I tried that tonight). The same applies to my sleeping bag (though I can’t put that up in a barn) and my rollmat and also those little plastic bags that you (Mum) gave me. I’m the most organised camper in town, which, since I’m in the smallest town in the world (yes, in the world, it’s a fact) isn’t saying loads.

I’ve just had a shower and that was the first time my therma-wicking-mohair-composite-ultralite left my body since I left home. It still does’t smell.

Weather

It’s mostly been pretty good. One time it did a bit of snowing but we didn’t get too much in our beards and we’ve walked through some pretty heavy wind but on the whole the walking has been quite pleasant. At night it has been pretty cold with a fair bit of shaking off of ice in the mornings to be done, but so far it hasn’t stopped me sleeping or anything. And pretty much all my stuff is dry.

Richard was tempted to bring a samuri sword and binoculars and bird book but he left them all behind due to being too heavy. He has, though, brought a Belgian medal from the late 19th century just in case.

Sleeping

We’ve slept in our tents for five nights (one of which was in someone’s garden), broken into a bizarre little shed slash cabin we came across in the middle of nowhere once, and on a kind person’s sofa (Richard) and bed (me) once. Tonight, as I may have mentioned, we sleep above the cows in a barn.

Penniless

You may remember me saying that we were going penniless. That turns out to have been a lie because we’re literally taking thousands of pennies. In fact about 20000 Euro cents which in modern money is about two hundred pounds.  I had failed to offload all my money before I arrived at Richard’s house so forty or so is mine. And if some bet that Richard has on comes off then he’ll have another thousand pounds at his disposal at the end of the football season. Either way, we’re being cautious with money.

People We’ve Met

This is just me, but I got to Richard’s house from Helene’s in a single hitch-hike. The guy (I forgot his name) was going to the border of Belgium from Calais but because I told him I was going to Brussels, he took me there. To Richard’s door, to be precise, via his mother’s house to give me some (excellent) food. I tried to hide €30 in his car but he found it and gave it back to me.

On the next night we were busy putting our tents up in Huppaye after having asked everyone we could find for permission and a guy called Ghislain came along and asked us if we’d like to have a drink with him. As it happened we did like to but we had to attend to our fire which was half way towards failing and so he upgraded his offer to us staying in his chalet. This we accepted, and as we were packing up our tents a couple of the people we’d met earlier came along on horses saying that there was an empty house we could use somewhere where there was heating and everything. Too late, we told them, and off to Ghislain’s house.

He made us dinner and gave us wine and beer and told us about his exgirlfriend who he is still in love with and various other interesting things. When he found out that we were going to Jerusalem he went off and found a book which had belonged to his father and before that to a saint (he didn’t know which one). He said that sometimes his father would rip out a page and give it to someone, but only on very special occasions. Since he’d owned the book he hadn’t given a page to anyone, not even his three sons, but if we prayed for him in Jerusalem he would give us one each. So now we really have to get there.

Later his son, Gilles, and a friend, Jean-Christophe (we seem to be in French Belgium) turned up with a bottle of fortified whiskey and Jean-Christophe told us, among other things, that his cure for depression which had worked for him was to hope for nothing. They also told us that if we came back in a year then we could have a big party with them and that also all our friends were invited from England. So clear your diary for next January or so. But don’t get your hopes up too much.

Another person we met in a grocery bought us a brioche and told us that we had to pray for him in Jerusalem. The brioche was excellent, and now there’s real pressure to get there.

In Modave we were putting up our tents and a guy called Dany came along and inquired in the way that people sometimes do. We mentioned about the fire we were planning to build and he gave some advice that I didn’t quite follow and then reappeared an hour or so later. I was halfway through creating what would have proved to be an excellent inferno and he suggested that he had a better plan. Always keen to give other people their chance to shine, we abandoned my fire and went to where he had a wheelbarrow full of wood and a blowtorch. He made a big pile and then blowtorched away and I’ll have to say that what the method lacked in grace it made up for in results. The next morning he made us breakfast and a packed lunch and pored over maps and then came with us for our entire day’s walk, all the way to Borlon. So he was our first joiner, though he has now left us.

 The people we’re staying with tonight have opened their doors most hospitably to us. Although that’s technically true, the place where we are sleeping is, in fact, doorless. You get in by climbing a ladder and bundling through a wall hole. Did I mention that Ghislain was a sort of trainee tarot card reader? Well he read our cards a few nights ago and made various predictions which didn’t seem totally right, and tonight we’ve had our future told again by the lady of the house. Although she uses Jesus instead of cards. She said that we were going to be met in Jerusalem by a red haired relative and that I was going to be a primary school teacher after the trip. Also she said that when she wasn’t too busy with the cows, she liked to heal people and that at some point (maybe last summer) she healed 687 people which seems like a pretty decent number to me. Unfortunately there was nothing wrong with us (she knew that) so she couldn’t cure us. But we did have a go at milking the cows. Well I did, and Richard stood there awkwardly, occasionally getting sprayed with cowpat. It was quite fun – isn’t it weird that I never milked the cows all those years when we had them? Well I suppose I’m a slow learner.

The Police

One night when it was snowing we had left it a little late to find somewhere to camp so we had to put our tent up without attaining permission from the landlord. Well he wasn’t at home so it was partly his fault. A bit later, when it was dark, he turned up accompanied by two policemen very much in a manner that suggested unfriendliness. I dealt with it expertly by grovelling and pleading and apologising and almost crying and he said we could stay the night. The police, slightly fearing that they were redundant in the whole process, took our names and details from our passports and said that rules still applied to pilgrims and that if we left any mess they knew who we were. We left no mess.

Food

We’re mostly eating bread and cheese with the exception of a) when people give us food and b) when Richard is hungry enough to think that my idea of just spending everything we’ve got to make the journey more exciting is a good one. And on Sunday Richard came back from the shop with some cheese, salami and four buns and said that he thought that that should be plenty for both of us for three days. I roundly disagreed and it was decided that he could try living on it for three days if he liked but that I would take €4,17 (the same budget) and buy what I liked. That was a Sunday and, the French being what they are (they’re Belgians round here), there weren’t many shops open so I didn’t really have any food except that we found a waffle and a variety pack of salty nibbles by the side of the road which were both too muddy for Richard to contemplate eating. And later we met Dany and then he gave us a bunch of food and then we met the Benteins and they gave us food and Ghislain also sent us off with a selection of mini butters etc so I haven’t spent any money since then and I still have a massive bag of stale bread to munch my way through.

The Route

These are some of the names I’ve written down: Teverun (R’s house), Grez-Doiceau, Huppaye, Burdinne, Oteppe, Huy, Modave, Borlon, Durbuy (pr. Dooberry and renowned for being the smallest town in the world), Barvaux, Manhay. (I’ve written this in stages, so I’m a little further now than before)

Richard

Here are some things that Richard has said:

I’m not bringing a toothbrush. I don’t really brush my teeth and they seem to be fine.

What!? You’re bringing toothpaste as well?!

[on day four] The thing is, I don’t actually like walking very much.

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Brussels

I made it to Brussels by doing excellent hitching (thanks Craig) and I’m staying with Helene, a couchsurfing person.

Helene

Helene

  Did you know that if you order an absinthe in a bar in France, the guy pours it into the glass over a teaspoon with two cubes of sugar in it, and then very earnestly lights the cubes and patiently waits there while the sugar crumbles and the absinthe it’s burning burns and then when it’s all burnt up he pours water very seriously over the sugary gloop he’s just made and into the glass? Well it’s true. Definitely worth €3 even though absinthe is gross.
Setting out (with pilgrim's staff)

Setting out (with pilgrim's staff)


In other news, hitching from Dover port is ideal. It’s like it has been designed for it. The only thing is that you should remember to get back to the vehicle you left your stuff in before it drives off unlike I did. Luckily the guy was quite friendly and had pulled in somewhere to wait for me, otherwise I’d now be without my pilgrim’s staff (and without my tent etc).

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If you are wondering what my plans are about this whole going to Jerusalem thing, this is what I’ve got so far:

  • I’m leaving on the 17th of January to get to Brussels and I suppose we’ll start our walk from there on the 19th.
  • I’m going with Richard Brittain who I met on Countdown. He’s awesome.
  • We’re walking the whole way unless we jack it in for some reason.
  • Richard reckons it’ll take between 6 months and a year.
  • He also reckons we’ll do about 10 miles a day.
  • We haven’t planned a route and I don’t think we’re going to.
  • We will probably be relying quite a bit on the kindness of strangers.
  • It is a pilgrimage; there’s no other reason for it.
  • I’m going to take camping stuff, a change of clothes, a camera, a Bible and a tube of condensed milk. Maybe some other stuff too.

I’ll hopefully write some more stuff here about what I’m doing. I expect not to be able to write emails and stuff to you individually, so this blog is the closest you’ll get but I won’t be too furious if you can’t be bothered to read it.

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