Browsing "Strolling in France"
May 24, 2012 - Strolling in France    4 Comments

Day 50 Calais to Ardres

Tonight’s effort is going to be a somewhat abridged affair as I’m still trying to sort out the technical problems, although I think that yesterday and today now have maps.

Last night as it was fairly warm we had the window of our bedroom open. At about 9:00 pm some bloke outside tapped on the window and made some unintellible noises. It is quite possible that these could have been friendly overtures but the tones didn’t sound particularly friendly so we hastily shut the window and, in the best British manner, pretended that nothing had happened.

Last night I spent ages trying to get our mifi gadget to work with the French sim, no luck at all. The thing works in Italy and also in Britain with loads of different carriers. Here in France? Not a chance!

The failure to get the mifi device working meant that instead of setting off for Ardres at a reasonable time this morning we headed into Calais centre ville again. In the France Telecom shop at one point there were five people trying to get the device to work. In the end they found an English speaking helpline and rang it for me. If the helpline they rang was a helpline which helped mobile users then I am sure that things would have moved forward smartly. Shame in many ways that it was for fixed lines only. My eager helpers gradually dwindled down to one bemused sales person who shrugged helplessly when all had failed and only raised shoulders and eyebrows were in evidence.

We returned to our hotel at about midday and had a drink before putting on our rucksacks and heading towards Ardres. I have been using a small daysack so that I don’t have to have my large rucksack for shopping and so forth. today to save time I couldn’t be bothered to empty the thing and, instead, I lashed it to the outside of my rucksack. What a stupid, stupid thing to do! After about 5 miles I was in a state of desperation and dilapidation, the balance and weight of this illmatched pair were terrible. I should have stopped and sorted it all out but didn’t of course.

We ate lunch in a very nice, inexpensive, restaurant. A very friendly, substantial, lady in charge. Delicious steak hashe de cheval with a portion of pommes frites as substantial as the lady in charge.

This part of France is full of waterways which simplified our choice of routes today as we could not criss cross the countryside if there were no bridges to allow such incontinence of purpose.

 

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One of the canals etc

We strolled on and on, and on and on, France is completely flat here so the roads and paths are arranged in long straight lines.

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Janet still looking cool, with an inexpensive sun hat

The good old rolling English road created by the good old rolling English drunkard has much to be said of it.

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Be careful and don’t grab hold of the bare high tension cables

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Arriving in Ardres at about 5:30pm we had just about had enough of walking. It had been hot and sweaty and, but for the French custom of free use of verges for convenience, it would also have been uncomfortable in the extreme.

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At last, Ardres, only another two miles to go.

We found a bar and refreshed ourselves willingly, the owner telling us where we might find a bed. The hotel is comfortable and we have dined well this evening on traditional French food. The people on the next table were a mother and son. The son was about 40 years old and the mother? Who knows? The son told me, amongst other things over a glass of cognac, that he enjoyed flying model gliders and that he intended to buy a new one as the one he used now was old and tired. He also told me that he was getting a new wife as he had been married for ten years and the new woman wanted to learn how to fly model gliders.
Tomorrow we are probably going to attempt to start strolling at 7:30 am, better go to bed I think.

Today’s stroll, looks a bit odd but it involves the stroll into Calais to talk to france telecom

 

May 25, 2012 - Strolling in France    6 Comments

Day 51 Ardres to Bonningues-les-Ardres

Yesterday’s stroll was largely enjoyed in the heat of the midday sun due to the late start caused by another meeting with France Telecom. The problems are not yet completely at an end as, on looking through the small print of the sim, before I can recharge the little tyke I must send a copy of my passport and some other stuff to France Telecom.

We resolved to start strolling much earlier today in order to have a cooler balinade. In Italy the bars open early so that people can have a quick coffee and brioche before setting out for work. We wondered if the same custom operated in France. We arose at about 6:30am and, after washing and dressing, left our key and left the hotel on a bar hunt, we hoped that we would find a big one.

The town centre wasn’t full but neither was it empty. Children were going to school and the baker was doing a steady trade with people collecting their bread, croissants and brioches. The bars were all shut so we decided to buy bread and a croissant and to then find a seat on which to sit and wolf down our purchases before getting started on the day’s adventure.

Today has been the day of kindnesses. As we looked for a seat a youngish bloke, in his 20s I should think, came out of the door of the baker’s and, seeing our packs, wanted to know what we were doing and where we were going. After a little while he said “Avez faim?” We said “Oui.” He then said “Don’t move, stay here.” He went back into the baker’s and came out with a bag containing 3 warm, fresh, brioches. He bade us a cheery “Bon chance” and we parted.

We eventually breakfasted sitting on a low wall in the town centre. The brioches were perfect and we made very short work of them.

In order to get to today’s destination we were looking forward to our first taste of a GR, a grand rendonner.

 

As Ardres retreated behind us the road became narrower and we stopped to consult our map to make sure that all was well. A chap stopped his car and gave us heaps of  useful advice about roads and paths.

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Roadside assistance

Eventually we found a small wooden arrow pointing towards a track in a field, we had found it.

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GR

The GR felt very much like the long distance routes in the UK. Strolling among the fields and over hills is what we really enjoy and we had it in abundance today for the first time since arriving in France.

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Hills and fields

It is quite obvious how much further along the seasons we are here in France.

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Just like home

We approached our destination, Tournehem-sur-la-Hem, looking forward to some lunch and getting our bed for the night arranged. We were early and found a nice cafe for a beer and a sandwich. As we ate and chatted to Mme Doyer, we asked her if she knew of anywhere to stay, she told us that there was an hotel and a chambre d’hote.

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Something to keep us going for a minute or two.

Second kindness coming up, Mme Doyer rang both the hotel and chambre d’hote without being asked but had some disappointing news for us. There is to be a basketball competition this weekend and all of the rooms in the town were full. She said that there was a chambre d’hote in the next village which we could try. This news came as a bit of a blow but, fortified by jambon, fromage et biere, we set of into the unknown and the, by now, hot sun getting hotter by the minute it seemed.

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The road to Le Manoir

On getting into Bonningues-les-Ardres we sought out the chambres d’hote, nowhere to be seen, despair. We found a tabac which doubled as a bar and was also a place where vegetable seeds could be purchased. The lady behind the counter served us our beer and we asked if there was a chambre d’hote in the village. It was at this point that our language skills started to fail. The only way to understand the directions was to draw a sketch map. Leaving our bags behind us we set out once more, sketch map in hand, hopes not too high but, where was this chambre d’hote? In desperation we stopped the only person we could see, a man in a smart business suit, to ask where the place might be. He seemed delighted that we were British and took us straightaway to our destination. Le Manoir, a very grand house set in its own grounds with an imposing entrance. We feared that it would be another bust as madame looked to be very busy. The man in the suit greeted her and explained our situation. She had a room! Would we come back a little later? Of course we would!

We had an enjoyable conversation with a chap back in the tabac, not too sure what it was about but it was obviously friendly as we all parted on good terms, shaking hands and being patted on the back.

Le manoir is lovely, we arrived and slept for an hour or two then went down to dinner. We enjoyed an aperitif made by the proprietors, blackcurrent, ginepre and cider, delicious and drunk sitting on the lawn with occasional visits from the dog.

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Janet and dog

We dicovered later that madame’s brother had a farm and that the beef  we had been eating was charolais crossed with blonde acquitaine, home produced and delicious.

We wandered about quite a bit today so the map goes all over the place. Lets hope we don’t have to call on the priest for sanctuary tomorrow night.

May 28, 2012 - Strolling in France    No Comments

Day 52 Bonningues-les-Ardres to Wisques

Despite everything I said about not calling on the priest for a bed for the night we slept on the 27th May as guests of the monks at the Benedictine Abbey at Wisques.

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In a monastery garden

The French long public holiday this weekend appeared to be leading us on an inexorable road to a one short in the bed for the night department. The internet failed us completely but our very kind host, Sylvie, rang the Benedictine Abbey at Wisques and organised a bed for us,

 

After having bade a fond farewell to our hosts at Le Manoir we set off to find the trail for today. At first it meant a stroll down a quiet country road before getting onto a true footpath once more. Not all of the footpaths marked on the map exist but the majority do and are marked so we could stroll at will.

 

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A roof, somewhere in France.

Today has been truly glorious for strolling, the sun has continued to shine and a cooling breeze has kept us company when we needed it the most.

 

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A shady lane

We aimed for Quercamps first, a small village where we were hoping to find a bar or a bakery for a lunchtime break. We found the bar immediately and went in. After getting a beer we asked if it was possible to have some lunch. The madame said that unfortunately this was not possible. In desperation we asked if she had any packets of crisps as by this time we were each thinking that biting a lump out of the other’s leg was a distinct possibility as a reasonable means of refreshment. Our difficulties increased when we tried to describe a packet of crisps, something made out of potato, something thin, something fried? We found a crisp packet in one of our rucksacks as a demonstration model and now we know the word for crisps in French. We had a bit of a chat with the people in the bar and suddenly madame appeared from the backroom with a plateful of pate sandwiches, delicious.  This was later followed by ice cream and tea and coffee.

 

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A bar, waiting for the sandwiches

Janet became friends with Patricia who introduced us to everyone and madame became Georgette.

 

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Janet and Patricia

We eventually decided that we should move on and succeeded in finding the path to Wisques and to the Abbey. We were welcomed by the hospitaler and shown to our room. The Abbey is very beautiful and we discovered that there were two other people in retreat.

We ate a good, simple, supper together and, using a mix of French and English, each told our life stories and how we came to be here in the Abbey on this day.

Day 53 brings a challenge, no map.

 

May 28, 2012 - Strolling in France    8 Comments

Day 53 Wisques to Aire-sur-la-Lys

We arose in our monastic simplicity this morning and went down to breakfast at the Abbey. The rules of the order suggest that guests might care to eat breakfast in silence. We ate in silence, quite a  challenge for us.

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The Abbey grounds

After packing our rucksacks ready for the road once more we wandered about the abbey looking for father hospitaler in order to make our contribution for having enjoyed the short retreat at the Abbey of St Paul at Wisques.

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The tower

The father was nowhere to be found so, after talking to the other two people on retreat we put the contributions and a note under his office door.

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The Cloister

Today was always going to be a challenge as we had no proper map. All map shops seem to have been shut or did not stock the necessary maps we needed. We felt that we would have to manage with the sketch map picked up in a bar and the gps device. Being optimists we set off along the main road to Wizernes, which looked as thought it might lead us onwards. Stopping at a crossroads we peered left then right then at our meagre geographical resources. A chap stopped his car and asked us where we were going and did we have a map. He looked surprised when we described the journey we were intending to make and at the weak mapping we were using. He warned us to use a different road as the one we intended to use was dangerous.

Walking along roads instead of footpaths became, very quickly, quite tiresome. Watching out for traffic and the reflected heat from the road surface was starting to make the stroll less enjoyable. The GPS suggested that there might be a path we could use somewhere ahead so we looked for it and eventually it appeared at the end of a terrace of houses. We needed now to look at the GPS and the feeble map in order to check that we had a possible winner. We took off our packs and sank to the grassy bank grateful for a rest. It was at this point that I realised that I had left my walking poles in a bus shelter about half a mile back. “Well, blow me!” I said to Janet. “I had better go back and get the little blighters!”

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The forgotten poles

We appeared to be managing quite well without a proper map as the paths seemed to be going in the right direction.

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A few elderly Citroens

 

I decided that we shoukd consult the GPS to make sure that all was well when the little tyke told me that it needed to go to sleep as the battery was flat, no map, no gps, that made us feel flat as well. “Still.” we said cheerfully “Good chance this path will get us there!” We followed the signs along leafy lanes, through woods etc for quite some time.

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Following the footpath up some steps

We felt that we must be near to our place of rest and confidently asked a passing cyclist how far from Aire were we. “About 8 Km” she replied cheerfully. We sat under a hedge and I got out the laptop and managed to recharge the GPS enough for us to get a fix. The cyclist was absolutely bang on we were going in the wrong direction and were 5 miles from our bed with an hour in which to get there.

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The sign shows “Warne” which we thought that we must have passed an hour before

With packs and, in the hot sun, having already walked over 18 miles we thought that 5 miles in an hour without a map would be tricky. Thankfully the ‘phones were working so we could ring the hotel and seek advice. The receptionist was happy to leave the key and the fob for the main door in an envelope in the green bin by the main door, saved again.

We decided to get a move on and stop strolling until we got to Aire.

A woman in the square in a bar at Aire-sur-les-Lys told us where to find the hotel. After a while Janet zoomed off ay high speed, unburdened, and left me to nurse all our worldly belongings and a cool glass of beer.

The map below is a bit odd as loads of detail is missing where the gps conked out.

Day 54 Aire-sur-la-Lys

As it was a public holiday here restaurants were shut last night so we went to look for some supper. Near to the hotel was a  sort of chip shop filled with eager chip eaters. The chips are served on trays, not little plastic efforts as in the UK but on enormous things that you could use to bring in the tea things, cups. saucers, plates, scones etc. People had one each of these monsters in front of them!

This morning we had a lie in after yesterday’s epic trek. I asked the receptionist if a map shop would be open today. She shrugged hopelessly and said probably not. We went out to seek breakfast and to find out if the map shops were truly closed, they were closed, as were most bars.

Decision time, go forth without  map again and with little chance of getting one before Arras? Or stay here for another day, rest and listen to the last day of the Windies test?

The clock in the Mairie has a carillon which plays a different tune on the hour and at each quarter. I think that I know the hour one but can’t remember its name.

 

May 29, 2012 - Strolling in France    7 Comments

Day 55 Aire-sur-la-Lys to Le Chateau Philomel, Lillers

It was quite odd being the only guests in the hotel last night, but the place was quiet I suppose. Going out for supper last night we had to

let ourselves out of the compound and then, on returning, let ourselves back in once again to our enormous but empty hotel. Breakfast this morning was generous and tasty. The receptionist was able to tell us that the shops likely to have maps would open at about 10:00am. Any hope of an early start was rapidly disappearing over the horizon but the receptionist’s hopeful suggestion that the local Carrefour had maps, and opened at 9:00 am, seemed worth a visit. Carrefour doesn’t sell any maps at all, not even roadmaps. So, “pooh” we thought. Janet legged it into the town centre as I bravely sat with a coffee and minded the rucksacks and stared into the middle distance.

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Carrefour, Lillers

Once equipped with enough maps for the day we set off towards Lillers. The French maps have a symbol which means that a footpath may exist but it is not guaranteed that it does exist. In an attempt to avoid a busy road we set out to use the footpath marked on the map. We strolled about for some time, passing football pitches and gardens and a place with a horse peering over a fence. The weather was warm and somewhat sultry today and we had only done a mile or two so it was quite disappointing to have to return to the road and use it anyway. Imagine our irritation to find that there was a nice pavement along this “dangerous road”. No need for the blessed path at all.

Finding a brasserie for lunch proved to be an impossible task today. but we have learned to improvise. A roll or two from breakfast, a hard boiled egg, a bonbel cheese, a few peanuts, a coke bottle filled with warm water. Tell me what is missing from that lot to make a fine luncheon, eaten sitting by a dusty track with nettles as companions.

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A simple luncheon by a dusty road and nettles

Lillers is a pleasant French town and it had a pleasant bar where we could slake our thirsts. There were two gentlemen standing at the bar who wondered what we were doing wandering about with enormous rucksacks. One of these chaps told us that he was a retired baker and had learned his trade in Paris. He told us that it was no fun working at night although kneading the dough made his hands soft and smooth and this delighted his wife.

Being refreshed we had enough strength to find our accommodation, Le Chateau Philomel. We eventually found some enormous gates and a long drive with a lake and an avenue of trees.

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An imposing entrance

We strolled up the driveway dressed in much the same manner as poverty stricken Dickensian characters. The house appeared and we found the owner who let us in to a very grand entrance hall, staircase and bedroom. We enquired about the other guests, how many etc. A pattern is starting to develop, again, we are the only residents.

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Le Chateau appearing out of the trees

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Again, the lights in the rooms are quite weak. This seems to be a common thread running through accommodation all over the UK and, it seems, in France. In fact I’m writing this blighter wearing a head torch even though all lights are burning with all their tiny might.

We have enough maps for tomorrow so our confidence knows no bounds. We can set out after breakfast to somewhere in France knowing that when we arrive it will be a place to which we have been heading.

 

 

May 30, 2012 - Strolling in France    5 Comments

Day 56 Lillers to Bruay-la-Buissière

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Leaving Lillers, and the chateau behind us.,

As we were eating our breakfasts this morning I asked our host casually about the chateau. He said that his great grandfather had bought the chateau but that its claim to fame was when it had been the HQ for the British in 1915 where the plans were laid for the battle of Loos. I suspect that we will be reminded of past conflicts on many more occasions as we move through this part of France, Vimy, Arras etc.

Looking at our map we could see small perfectly circular hills dotted about the countryside and had speculated on what they might be. Janet wondered if theywere neolithic burial mounds and I wondered if they were WW1 constructions. We showed our host the map and asked him what could they be? He demolished our romantic notions with the words “They are coal tips, not very beautiful.”

The weather forecast, in fact, was good for strollers today, misty and cool to start with the possibility of thunder later. We could see that it was possible to start our stroll along a quiet country track and thus avoid a major road and its traffic. This track would then lead over, or under, the very busy autoroute A26, down which we have travelled on more than one occasion to Italy. The coolness of the air meant that we were walking at quite a pace compared to the last day or two and we were in high spirits, singing snatches of silly songs. It was certainly a surprise when we found a barrier across the track over which we were tripping and tripping came to an end.

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Path blocked by a “No entry” sign and securely locked

When we retraced our steps and used the bridge, provided for the use of motorised vehicles, it quickly became apparent why the French authorities had been so cautious in providing such a secure closure.

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The reason for caution, the A26

I hope that I would have been in possession of enough self control not to have set out to cross this mighty tide of traffic if the barrier had not existed.

The first sight of poppies after this morning’s conversation with our host caused us to pause for a moment or two.

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Poppies in a field

Finding a footpath which would carry us through a wood after having walked by a busy and narrow road was a real pleasure as the weather was getting warmer by the minute and showing no sign of thunder or rain.

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A leafy glade

Leafy glades in photographs all look the same, this one is really not one I made earlier in England. The shade was more than welcome by this time although insects were beginning to find our British persons interesting as possible sources of nutrients. Before leaving Old Blighty I took the precaution of buying some industrial strength insect repellant which actually had the desired effect and kept the little beggars at bay. The instructions said that the stuff was very effective but that the smell was fairly offensive. There must be more about me that is odd than I had previously thought as I find the smell unusually attractive.

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chez nous

We arrived in Bruay-la-Buissière in plenty of time to relax before supper but had no maps for the morrow or an internet stick that could connect to the internet. The receptionist suggested that maps could be bought in town, a mere 1Km from the hotel. I did get the stick fixed in town but all likely looking map shops sold no maps.

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A street here where there are no maps

Turning around we went in the other direction and walked back 1 Km then walked another to an out of town complex, maps aplenty, we can walk again tomorrow.

 

May 31, 2012 - Strolling in France    12 Comments

Day 57 Bruay-la-Buissière to Aubigny-en-Artois

As we were tucking into our croissants etc this morning I was a little disappointed to see a Frenchman at the next table receive a plate of bacon and eggs. Had I known that this option was available to me I would have requested it for myself.

We managed to get away quite early this morning in order to get a good start on what could have been a longish day. The wheel and map suggested that we needed to walk about 15 miles today so we didn’t want to waste any time loitering without any intent.

As we were walking out of Bruay we were stopped by a French woman who asked us why we were walking through Bruay. She had done the pilgrimage to Santiago and so was interested in why we were doing our trip and seemed surprised that Bruay might be involved. She offered us tea etc and it really was a great pity that we had just met this morning as her local walking knowledge was obviously vast.

On the outskirts of the town were the slag heaps. They are quite imposing and we could see that they were being developed, one having a new vineyard starting to grow on its slopes, others having trees etc growing thickly on their slopes.

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A slag heap

The weather was cooler today and much more pleasant for walking so we were able to keep up a fairly brisk pace for most of the day. The countryside here is much more interesting than it appears from the seat of a car travelling south at high speed and we have enjoyed today very much indeed.

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Notthing going anywhere at high speed

Passing through a small wood we could hear the unmistakable sounds of a school field trip. A green open area revealed groups of scholars obviously being prepared to complete some woodland activities and having a great time. It was here that we spotted some strange objects made of metal and having chains hanging down from a top ring. Could they be plant pots?

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A strange object with hanging chains

As we were drawing near to Aubigny we spotted a track which would take us there in a fairly straight line and which avoided road completely. We set off down the track and were very pleased to discover that someone had spent quite a lot of time and effort in making the surface hard and dry. Brick ends, bits of old ceramic tiles and other hard debris had been layed down making the path a pleasure on which to walk.

About 50 yards along the path it went into a field and stopped at a fence. No problem for us because we could see that this was not really the path. The real path went into a narrow cutting overgrown with trees, bushes and nettles.

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Undaunted by this trifling difficulty placed in our way by a cruel nature we put on our wet weather gear in order to ward off nettle stings and flying insects and plunged headlong into the green unknown.

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After some 20 yards the vegetation lessened in its intensity and the way became much easier for us to follow. It was all the more disappointing then to find the path blocked by a fence and a large pool of water and sludge. Ah well! Nothing to do but look at the map and go back. This slight set back probably only added an extra half a mile or so to the stroll so it was an irritant rather than a disaster.

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Arriving at Aubigny-en-Artois

Before leaving Shropshire we remembered that one of our neighbours, John Hart, had ordered an unusual French local dish which was a sausage containing intestines. Being fairly sure that we would not enjoy this any more than he had done we asked Sheila Clarke, our French expert, what this potent dish would be called on a menu. Tonight at supper one of the items was l’andouillette, phew, thank goodness we asked and remembered. 

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