A walk from London to the French capital
In early 2011 I heard that a friend of mine had set himself the challenge of walking all the way from Sevenoaks in Kent to its twin French town of Pontoise on the outskirts of Paris.
It was to coincide with a weekend group visit to Pontoise by the town twinning association. I was a member of the association and my wife and I had already signed up for the visit which was to involve 30 people travelling to France by bus on a 4 day trip in late May 2011.
The walk sounded like a much better idea than the bus and asked if I could join in and I was delighted when my friend agreed. The plan was for us to set off about a week before the bus and time our arrival so that it would coincide with the main party’s arrival. After the weekend in Pontoise, we would catch “a lift” on the bus for the journey home.
We did the trip in 7 days, walking anything from between 15 to 25 miles a day. The weather held up for most of the time and it was gloriously sunny for the majority of the trip.
Day 1 – Friday, 27th May 2011
We set out from Sevenoaks at about 8am in the morning. We were accompanied by four other friends on the first day. They would encourage us and get us off to a good start. We made it to Uckfield on the first night and stayed in a bed and breakfast to the west of the town.
Day 2 – Saturday, 28th May 2011
We continued alone for the next part of the journey. We reached Newhaven in the evening and stayed at another bed and breakfast at the “Trevor Arms” just outside the town
Day 3 – Sunday, 29th May 2011
We caught the early ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. It was a 4 hour crossing and the boat arrived in France just after lunch time.
We then started walking on the excellent Chemin Verte that follows the old abandoned railway south of Dieppe. The walking was mostly easy although some of it was on tarmac.
The first night in France was memorable. We arrived at our guest house to find the owners were going out for the evening. They told us that they had left a little food for us.
“A little food” turned out to be one of the nicest meals either of us had had for a while. It was a wonderful buffet of meat, fish, pate, salads and wonderful ice cold local cider to wash it all down with.
Day 4 – Monday, 30th May 2011
We started walking early and made it in time for lunch at a Neufchatel. After a couple of delicious omelettes at a pavement café, we carried on along the Chemin Verte stopping at some of the little cafes they had made out of the converted stations.
At the end of our second day in France the ex-railway finally gave out (it became a real railway) at Forge Les Eaux where we spent our 4th night.
The hotel wasn’t really up to much and we couldn’t find anywhere decent to eat. Forge wasn’t really a place that impressed us too much.
Day 5 – Tuesday, 31st May 2011
We were so eager to leave Forge the next morning that we decided to dispense with the idea of having breakfast at the hotel. Instead we planned to get something in the next village along. It sounded like a good idea; get a few miles under our belts and then pause for a bit of “petit dejeuner”.
It wasn’t. The next village and the one after that had no bakery or indeed anywhere where we could find food. We asked a woman in the second village for directions to a bakery but she told us the nearest was back in Forge. Eventually she gave us some of her own bread and asked us if we wanted Ketchup on it. We declined the ketchup but took the bread. Sadly it was totally stale but it stove off our hunger at bit. Later on we quenched our thirsts at a local school
We finally had a wonderful lunch in Gournay en Bray and then carried on walking on a mixture of back roads and paths. Our lodging that night was a wonderful guest house near the old Benedictine abbey at St Germer de Fly.
Day 6 – Wednesday, 1st June 2011
The next day took us through a lot of pleasant forests towards Gisors. It was a long stretch. As we had done on most of the other days we recited Monty Python sketches and other comedy material to each other to keep our spirits up.
By late afternoon we finally came into the little village of Fay Les Etangs. We were very tired and not a little dusty. Our B&B owner greeted us at his gate and beckoned us into his lovely garden and brought out some lovely cider.
It was quite an idyllic moment, sitting in that garden, feet sore but feeling happy to have made it so far and drinking some lovely cider. We had actually booked full board at the B&B and that evening we had a lovely meal with the cider once again playing a big role.
Day 7 – Thursday, 2nd June 2011
We set off early for the final short stretch into Pontoise and the route took us eventually past Pointoise airfield and then, in one magical moment, the whole skyline of Paris with the Eifel tower at its centre came into view in the far distance. We reached the outskirts of Pontoise at 2pm and congratulated ourselves. We had made it safe and sound if a little sore.
We arrived well ahead of the bus and we celebrated by taking a selection of photos at various points around the town. We headed to the town hall to await the bus at 4pm and to pick at the “welcome afternoon tea” that awaited the other English visitors.
The bus arrived and the rest of the visitors gave us a bit of a round of applause for our athletic feat.
We then had a wonderful weekend, staying in the homes of our wonderful French hosts, visiting Paris on the Saturday afternoon and taking part in a celebration meal on the Saturday evening. We said goodbye to Pontoise on Sunday morning and headed back to Sevenoaks.
It was quite nice, to be honest, to be travelling back by bus!