Wandering in Komissar Wallander’s footsteps

There is a little town called Ystad in the very south of Sweden right on the Baltic sea. It is best known for its most prominent (and fictitious) police officer, Kurt Wallander. He is the agent in Henning Mankell‘s crime stories that are all placed in Ystad or somewhere around here.

A lot of hotel rooms and vacation homes are equipped with maps and brochures that point out all places that play a role in the movies. You can go visit Wallander’s house in the Mariagatan, the train station that serves as his office building. Or drink coffee in the “Hotell Continental” where Wallander takes his coffee, or even go to the beaches in the “Hagestad Naturreservat” east of Ystad where Wallander retreats to to think about his current cases.

But even if everything seems to be about Swedish movies, and especially Henning Mankell’s crime stories, this region, called southern Skane, has so much more to offer. Coffee is indeed a pretty serious thing here—not only is there a cafe in almost every other house in the town but it is also very good, very strong, and very tasty.

Sweden’s most beautiful beaches (voted for by some Swedish magazine in 2009) along the Baltic sea attract thousands of visitors over the summer. In the fall, they are deserted and are an inviting place to take a walk. An important prehistoric site, alnes stener, (which translates to something like ale’s stones) is just a few miles along the coast east of Ystad. built by the Vikings some 1000-1500 years ago it is a bunch of big stones erected in the shape of a viking’s ship. It is probably comparable to Stonehenge in a way, I didn’t dare ask, though, for fear of offending Vikings.

The roaring green hills of the inland is full of old castles and big mansions that sit in the midst of rich farmland and forests. Some of them, like Marsvinsholm, allow visitors to stride through their big parks, sculpture gardens, and orchards, and they even host summer festivals and concerts. A few natural reserves close to Ystad are also worth visiting. I have never seen more wild birds of prey than here.

By: Christoph Sahle

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In which the varied topography of mountainous Switzerland aptly mirrors the oscillating emotional environment; and in which Paul is joined by a dear friend

Hello all,

I’m in Lucerne, and it is totally beautiful here. The streets are leafy and the buildings old and leaning. The lake is magnificent turquoise, and seems to capture sunlight then fragment it into a million hues of awesome. Only staying overnight, and loads to sort out, then a five day march to Konstanz and Germany! I realised that it is six weeks today that I set out. Wowzer. My mileage is now 744.72.

Ok, so before I bore you with events, there are two interesting bits of news to share. Firstly, I shall be joined in Konstanz by my friend, Chloe Loftus. She seemed keen on some adventuring, and after some discussion has decided to join me for an indeterminate period of time. I think it’s very brave to come and do this so off the cuff. Me, I took months of preparation and umming and arring before I finally got my bum off the island. So if you see her in the next couple of days, wish her luck! I’m not sure how it’s going to feel having company. I’ve got so used to being on my own, barely speaking for days, cooking for one etc. But then, I guess that will be an adventure in itself, a departure from what has become my norm and routine.

Secondly, a bit of slightly crap news. I may well not make it to Prague, and there is a very distinct possibility that I will bring the finish line forward to Munich. This is for a number of reasons. For a start, I have covered about 150 miles more than I expected to at this geographical point. My body is starting to really hurt. Just outside of Geneva, I tweaked my hamstring, and a double dose of Nurofen and a hefty splodge of Deep Heat is about all that makes it bearable at the moment. I am very worried it will tear or snap or whatever it is that hamstrings do when they go wrong. Added to that, my knees are pretty bad, and Switzerland has no flat bits, so they’re taking a pounding. And I have just shaken off a horrid cold, which I walked with for the best part of a week. Moan moan winge shut up Paul, you lucky bastard. Also, financial considerations (I can’t keep borrowing from mum and dad!), and I would like to be home in time for my mum’s birthday at the end of September. I’ve decided to make a final call on it in Konstanz. Basically, if I think I can make Prague in no more than three weeks from there, then I’ll go on. If not, as long as I will hit 1000 miles by the time I get there, twill be Munich. Believe me, this will be one of the hardest decisions I ever have to make. I’m so desperate to make it all the way, to complete what I set out to do. And I don’t want to let anyone down, and there is still so far to reach my charity target (HINT: http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder) (just to recap that’s http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder). Anyway, that’s how it is.

I didn’t really get a chance to describe the hike over the Jura Mountains on the French/Swiss border last time I sent a message, and there was one particular moment I quite wanted to share. The whole four days I was up there were amazing. Grueling, but amazing. The night before I hit the highest peak (Cret de la Neige -1720m) I stayed in a refuge hut with a group of guys and a little girl (don’t worry, they were related – I think). I made a big fire outside after we had eaten, and we sat round.

One by one, they went in and I was alone beside the fire for some time, just watching its motion and the embers flitting off into the mountain night. And as I stared into it, it became hard for me to find where I stopped and it started, if that makes any sense. I found that the way I was feeling was identical to the fire. I had a moment of absolutely, utterly, beyond any doubt or refutation, knowing that everything really is ok, and happening the right way and order. And I realised that, like the fire, parts of me have been burned off in this journey. I knew then that no matter what happens to me in life, there is a line that I shall never drop below again. There is no need for me ever to feel crap again, because there is a mountain hut in a beautiful place I can escape to whenever I want, for 5euros a night (honesty box job). Anyway, that was pretty much one of the best moments I can recall. And there were shooting stars that night.

So what can I say about Switzerland. Well for one, THERE ARE NO FLAT BITS IN SWITZERLAND!!! It is all up and down, threading through valleys. But it is a spectacular place to hike. Rarely out of sight of mountains, clear lakes, forests and always Buddha cows with their jingling bells.

I wasn’t so keen on Geneva. Was full of banks and commerce and other such silly unnecessary things, and stink of money. Was glad to leave and walking along Lake Leman (known as Geneva to you uneducated foreigners) for two days was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Cannot convey how vast it is. Was so wanting to go for a swim, but time and fear of leaving my kit kept me bone dry. One night, I slept about two metres from the water, and awoke to dancing light on crystal water. Happymaking.

The path I am on is so well signposted, which is a relief after the hassle of staying on track across France. Though there have been a couple of moments, especially in Lausanne, where it took me over three hours to find the route. Weather is temperamental. It can be over 30 degrees, clear skies, then ten minutes later, blazing thunderstorm with end-of-days style clouds. But so many picturesque villages to keep me happy. Willisau especially good (will post up pictures when I get time). Had to stop in Fribourg overnight, which I didn’t plan to do, because I was so ill I had stars dancing in my vision. Lowest point so far. Couple of days where my head went completely blank, and I walked in a kind of goofy euphoria, neither feeling pain, nor thinking thought. I became the no-minded nomad, which was nice. Just to be a creature engaged in the most basic of activities is very, very fulfilling. Henry David Thoreau wrote that the cost of anything is the amount of life that has to be exchanged for it. There are times when I would give my all just to stay this way all my days. People in Switzerland are super friendly. I have had people going into shops and coming out with water for me, an old man gave me the best chunk of Emmental cheese I have ever tasted, and even the farmers generally give me a wave. I am in the German speaking region of Switzerland now, so good practice for the road ahead!

I better go and get on with finding a cheap hotel for the night and washing my filthy rags and body. Just to leave on a positive note, here’s something that happened as I lay in my tent beside Lac Leman: I had just eaten my dinner, was lying in the tent listening to the lapping water and the cicadas, when a thought popped into my head: I have never felt more at home. I probed this – did I just mean in the tent, or there beside the lake? No. I realised that I was feeling for the first time that I am at home in the world, the whole thing. Only now that I have knocked down boundaries do I feel a sense of home. I, all of us in fact, was not made so robust and capable to box myself/ourselves in. And in one of those awesome moments of pure synchronicity (there are no coincidences), I opened Thoreau’s Walden (read it) at random and this was the first passage I came across, with which I shall say farewell for now (and please donate, those of you that haven’t, it will mean so so much to me) :

“The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep he contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the plains, or climbing the mountain tops. But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”

Paul x

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Hello all,

I’m in Lucerne, and it is totally beautiful here. The streets are leafy and the buildings old and leaning. The lake is magnificent turquoise, and seems to capture sunlight then fragment it into a million hues of awesome. Only staying overnight, and loads to sort out, then a five day march to Konstanz and Germany! I realised that it is six weeks today that I set out. Wowzer. My mileage is now 744.72.

Ok, so before I bore you with events, there are two interesting bits of news to share. Firstly, I shall be joined in Konstanz by my friend, Chloe Loftus. She seemed keen on some adventuring, and after some discussion has decided to join me for an indeterminate period of time. I think it’s very brave to come and do this so off the cuff. Me, I took months of preparation and umming and arring before I finally got my bum off the island. So if you see her in the next couple of days, wish her luck! I’m not sure how it’s going to feel having company. I’ve got so used to being on my own, barely speaking for days, cooking for one etc. But then, I guess that will be an adventure in itself, a departure from what has become my norm and routine.

Secondly, a bit of slightly crap news. I may well not make it to Prague, and there is a very distinct possibility that I will bring the finish line forward to Munich. This is for a number of reasons. For a start, I have covered about 150 miles more than I expected to at this geographical point. My body is starting to really hurt. Just outside of Geneva, I tweaked my hamstring, and a double dose of Nurofen and a hefty splodge of Deep Heat is about all that makes it bearable at the moment. I am very worried it will tear or snap or whatever it is that hamstrings do when they go wrong. Added to that, my knees are pretty bad, and Switzerland has no flat bits, so they’re taking a pounding. And I have just shaken off a horrid cold, which I walked with for the best part of a week. Moan moan winge shut up Paul, you lucky bastard. Also, financial considerations (I can’t keep borrowing from mum and dad!), and I would like to be home in time for my mum’s birthday at the end of September. I’ve decided to make a final call on it in Konstanz. Basically, if I think I can make Prague in no more than three weeks from there, then I’ll go on. If not, as long as I will hit 1000 miles by the time I get there, twill be Munich. Believe me, this will be one of the hardest decisions I ever have to make. I’m so desperate to make it all the way, to complete what I set out to do. And I don’t want to let anyone down, and there is still so far to reach my charity target (HINT: http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder) (just to recap that’s http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder). Anyway, that’s how it is.

I didn’t really get a chance to describe the hike over the Jura Mountains on the French/Swiss border last time I sent a message, and there was one particular moment I quite wanted to share. The whole four days I was up there were amazing. Grueling, but amazing. The night before I hit the highest peak (Cret de la Neige -1720m) I stayed in a refuge hut with a group of guys and a little girl (don’t worry, they were related – I think). I made a big fire outside after we had eaten, and we sat round. One by one, they went in and I was alone beside the fire for some time, just watching its motion and the embers flitting off into the mountain night. And as I stared into it, it became hard for me to find where I stopped and it started, if that makes any sense. I found that the way I was feeling was identical to the fire. I had a moment of absolutely, utterly, beyond any doubt or refutation, knowing that everything really is ok, and happening the right way and order. And I realised that, like the fire, parts of me have been burned off in this journey. I knew then that no matter what happens to me in life, there is a line that I shall never drop below again. There is no need for me ever to feel crap again, because there is a mountain hut in a beautiful place I can escape to whenever I want, for 5euros a night (honesty box job). Anyway, that was pretty much one of the best moments I can recall. And there were shooting stars that night.

So what can I say about Switzerland. Well for one, THERE ARE NO FLAT BITS IN SWITZERLAND!!! It is all up and down, threading through valleys. But it is a spectacular place to hike. Rarely out of sight of mountains, clear lakes, forests and always Buddha cows with their jingling bells. I wasn’t so keen on Geneva. Was full of banks and commerce and other such silly unnecessary things, and stink of money. Was glad to leave and walking along Lake Leman (known as Geneva to you uneducated foreigners) for two days was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Cannot convey how vast it is. Was so wanting to go for a swim, but time and fear of leaving my kit kept me bone dry. One night, I slept about two metres from the water, and awoke to dancing light on crystal water. Happymaking.

The path I am on is so well signposted, which is a relief after the hassle of staying on track across France. Though there have been a couple of moments, especially in Lausanne, where it took me over three hours to find the route. Weather is temperamental. It can be over 30 degrees, clear skies, then ten minutes later, blazing thunderstorm with end-of-days style clouds. But so many picturesque villages to keep me happy. Willisau especially good (will post up pictures when I get time). Had to stop in Fribourg overnight, which I didn’t plan to do, because I was so ill I had stars dancing in my vision. Lowest point so far. Couple of days where my head went completely blank, and I walked in a kind of goofy euphoria, neither feeling pain, nor thinking thought. I became the no-minded nomad, which was nice. Just to be a creature engaged in the most basic of activities is very, very fulfilling. Henry David Thoreau wrote that the cost of anything is the amount of life that has to be exchanged for it. There are times when I would give my all just to stay this way all my days. People in Switzerland are super friendly. I have had people going into shops and coming out with water for me, an old man gave me the best chunk of Emmental cheese I have ever tasted, and even the farmers generally give me a wave. I am in the German speaking region of Switzerland now, so good practice for the road ahead!

I better go and get on with finding a cheap hotel for the night and washing my filthy rags and body. Just to leave on a positive note, here’s something that happened as I lay in my tent beside Lac Leman: I had just eaten my dinner, was lying in the tent listening to the lapping water and the cicadas, when a thought popped into my head: I have never felt more at home. I probed this – did I just mean in the tent, or there beside the lake? No. I realised that I was feeling for the first time that I am at home in the world, the whole thing. Only now that I have knocked down boundaries do I feel a sense of home. I, all of us in fact, was not made so robust and capable to box myself/ourselves in. And in one of those awesome moments of pure synchronicity (there are no coincidences), I opened Thoreau’s Walden (read it) at random and this was the first passage I came across, with which I shall say farewell for now (and please donate, those of you that haven’t, it will mean so so much to me) :

“The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep he contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the plains, or climbing the mountain tops. But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”

Paul x

In which a short break in the relentless march toward the Bohemian lands allows Paul to take in a bit of sport, and to convalesce slightly from physical and spiritual maladies

Paul Holder August 17 at 5:15am

Hey,

Haven’t got long, as need to check out of hotel in about an hour and lots to do. I am in Geneva, have been since Saturday morning. Much cooler here and raining all the time. I managed to cross France in 30 days, covering 555.82miles. Mental.


In Lyon, I went to see Lyon vs Monaco: first game of the season: Dire match, but good experience. Was 33degrees centigrade the day I left Lyon, and nearly fried to death first couple of days. Then 4 days in the Jura mountains. Hardest thing I’ve ever done but totally totally amazing and humbling and somewhere I will be again. One night slept in a mountain refuge hut 1460m above sea level, with a very odd but kind family. Made a huge fire outdoors, shooting stars, Ricard. Unforgettable.

Badly hurt right knee, had to descend into Geneva walking backwards a lot of the way to take weight off it. A lot of knocks and sores now, but entering another country has put plenty of wind in my sails.
Have not been able to get maps I need, so have one map of Switzerland’s main walking routes that I hope will get me across. Want to enter Germany in a fortnight.

I must go now. Some pictures added, though not all. PLEASE donate what you can. Went over a grand over the weekend, which is amazing, but still a long way to go – don’t make me start a name and shame campaign.

Paul, Lord of the (in)Sole x

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Paul Holder August 17 at 5:15am

Hey,

Haven’t got long, as need to check out of hotel in about an hour and lots to do. I am in Geneva, have been since Saturday morning. Much cooler here and raining all the time. I managed to cross France in 30 days, covering 555.82miles. Mental.

In Lyon, I went to see Lyon vs Monaco: first game of the season: Dire match, but good experience. Was 33degrees centigrade the day I left Lyon, and nearly fried to death first couple of days. Then 4 days in the Jura mountains. Hardest thing I’ve ever done but totally totally amazing and humbling and somewhere I will be again. One night slept in a mountain refuge hut 1460m above sea level, with a very odd but kind family. Made a huge fire outdoors, shooting stars, Ricard. Unforgettable.

Badly hurt right knee, had to descend into Geneva walking backwards a lot of the way to take weight off it. A lot of knocks and sores now, but entering another country has put plenty of wind in my sails.
Have not been able to get maps I need, so have one map of Switzerland’s main walking routes that I hope will get me across. Want to enter Germany in a fortnight.

I must go now. Some pictures added, though not all. PLEASE donate what you can. Went over a grand over the weekend, which is amazing, but still a long way to go – don’t make me start a name and shame campaign.

Paul, Lord of the (in)Sole x

In which the weltschmerz is more keenly felt than usual, where modern alienation becomes mere kitsch and loneliness is just a way of being, and where majesty crumbles

Paul Holder August 6 at 12:45pm

Hello people of earth,

I am in Lyon right now. Took about five days to walk here, and am now a bit over 435 miles into my trek.

Lyon looks like it could be pretty ace. Mind you, I’ve spent most of my time since arriving here at lunchtime in a laundromat (had to sit in nothing but a towel, because everything needed a clean), and this here internet cafe. Still, I figure that if I get all the bits and pieces done today, I can have a proper day off tomorrow for the first time in over three weeks. I realised this morning as I was walking into the city that in twenty three days, there has only been one day on which I have done no walking with my kit. I am probably made from adamantium by now.

So yeah, Lyon is tres belle. Loads and loads of bridges and water (the rivers Saone and Rhone converge in the middle of the city). Also it is the gastronomical capital of France, so I aim to find something unusual for dinner tonight, like moon rock sorbet. Going to do some proper sight seeing tomorrow. There are Roman remains, amphitheatres etc, plus I really want to go to the Lumiere Museum, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born here, so hoping to see some original Little Prince drawings.
This past week has been a bit of a tough one to be honest. This is largely because I had to walk on road the whole way here from Clermont-Ferrand. Often they were busy A-road style affairs, and the first two days was pretty much one long and torrential thunderstorm, so I spent it getting soaked and dodging cars. Longed for the peace of the forest again. Kind of takes the romance out of it. Also, I got quite lonely this week. I think this came from being in civilised areas a lot. It’s strange; when I’m completely alone in the woods or up a mountain, I feel fine. It’s only when I come down into the towns and cities and stop walking that I begin to get anxious, lonely and feel a bit ridiculous. My energy level has started to dip, and I had a couple of really rough days, where I was running on nothing but determination. Having to put a second new notch on my belt was a bit demoralising. But for all this, I know that there are better times ahead, and I’ll be leaving Lyon at least partially recharged.
So what can I say about the landscape of the past week? Well, to be honest, because I’ve been following the roads, which almost always follow the path of least resistance, it has been pretty bland. I passed over two low mountain ranges (Monts du Forez and Monts du Lyonnais), crossed the Loire, and went through a few picturesque little towns (Thiers especially is worth a mention, though it felt a bit like The Prisoner – I couldn’t find the road out!).

I suppose there’s only two incidences of particular interest. The first was on Wednesday evening (4th August). I got to a village called Ste-Foy-L’Argentiere and really had no energy left, so searched around for somewhere to camp. Found a park and was about to pitch when I noticed two guys watching me. Instantly knew that something was amiss. They came over and asked if I was going to sleep there, I said yes and they got pretty vocal about it. They then went and sat on a bench in front of me and just stared at me. I didn’t want to give up my ground, so I decided to sit there for twenty minutes to see if they’d go away and also to give myself time to think about my next move if they didn’t. I thought if it got nasty, my walking stick Balderic would even up the numbers. However, I didn’t know my exits and whether they’d call in more people if a confrontation arose, so in the end I decided I’d have to leave. It was getting dark by now and there really wasn’t anywhere else to pitch in the village, so I went to a nearby bar and asked if there was a hotel in the area. Turned out the only place with rooms was a run-down bar on the other side of the village. When I got there it was closed, but I saw a light on so I knocked on the door and an incredibly fat, incredibly hairy man opened the door. He showed me up to a room with no lock, there were wires hanging out the wall, and the neon light outside my window flickered. It was a bit like staying in a Tom Waits song. Still, in three weeks that was the first problem I’ve had finding a place to put up the tent, so that’s pretty good going. Things like that are bound to happen. There will be difficult situations, but in a way, I enjoy the challenge. And increasingly, I’m adopting the Billy Pilgrim maxim: so it goes.


The second thing is pretty hard to explain. Yesterday after lunch, I was walking along a pretty remote country road when I happened to look up and see a bird flying really unsteadily towards me. I ducked out of the way and it landed with a thump in the middle of the road. It was an owl. I don’t know much about owls, but it was definitely from the gigantic side of the family. Seriously, its wingspan was about the same as my arms. It just sat there and I just stood there, and we were staring at each other, probably both unsure what to do next. I took a step forward and he started hopping away, trying to take flight. I realised he was injured, but didn’t know what to do. Do the French have something like the RSPCA? I couldn’t just leave him there. A car came whizzing around the corner and I waved it round frantically. And all the time, the owl sat there, his neck twisted around in that hideous way they are capable of, with those huge unblinking orange eyes fixed on me. He kept on trying to fly, until he hopped off the road into the thick undergrowth of the embankment. He was completely stuck. Every time he moved, he just dropped further down the steep embankment, until soon he was beyond my reach.

But still, he looked at me. I felt dumb and useless, like when you’re making stupid noises at a baby and its just looking at you, and you suddenly realise that you are making stupid noises and start to feel a bit of a plum. In the end I just turned and left. The whole incident probably only lasted five minutes, but for the next couple of hours my head was thick with blue fog. Seeing such a majestic creature hobbling along like that was so pathetically comic, and knowing there was nothing that I could do, well I don’t think there have been too many events that have sucked the joy of life out of me so rapidly. Last night I dreamt that the owl laid eggs in my hat.
Sorry if this all sounds miserable. I am still really happy and definitely know I have the Right Idea (cheers D-Rob). In a week I should be in Geneva, though the small matter of the Jura Mountains stands between me and Switzerland. I can’t believe that I’ve nearly walked across the whole of France!!! It’s a real buzz in the base of my pants just to think of it. Also, please chip in a few quid when you get the chance. I’ve nearly raised a grand so far, which is close to halfway to my target. And please do send me messages, on here and by text. It makes more difference than you’ll ever know. Sorry for the tone of this message, I’m sure I’ll be full of it again next time I get in touch.

Paul x

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Paul Holder August 6 at 12:45pm

Hello people of earth,

I am in Lyon right now. Took about five days to walk here, and am now a bit over 435 miles into my trek. Lyon looks like it could be pretty ace. Mind you, I’ve spent most of my time since arriving here at lunchtime in a laundromat (had to sit in nothing but a towel, because everything needed a clean), and this here internet cafe. Still, I figure that if I get all the bits and pieces done today, I can have a proper day off tomorrow for the first time in over three weeks. I realised this morning as I was walking into the city that in twenty three days, there has only been one day on which I have done no walking with my kit. I am probably made from adamantium by now.
So yeah, Lyon is tres belle. Loads and loads of bridges and water (the rivers Saone and Rhone converge in the middle of the city). Also it is the gastronomical capital of France, so I aim to find something unusual for dinner tonight, like moon rock sorbet. Going to do some proper sight seeing tomorrow. There are Roman remains, amphitheatres etc, plus I really want to go to the Lumiere Museum, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born here, so hoping to see some original Little Prince drawings.


This past week has been a bit of a tough one to be honest. This is largely because I had to walk on road the whole way here from Clermont-Ferrand. Often they were busy A-road style affairs, and the first two days was pretty much one long and torrential thunderstorm, so I spent it getting soaked and dodging cars. Longed for the peace of the forest again. Kind of takes the romance out of it. Also, I got quite lonely this week. I think this came from being in civilised areas a lot. It’s strange; when I’m completely alone in the woods or up a mountain, I feel fine. It’s only when I come down into the towns and cities and stop walking that I begin to get anxious, lonely and feel a bit ridiculous. My energy level has started to dip, and I had a couple of really rough days, where I was running on nothing but determination. Having to put a second new notch on my belt was a bit demoralising. But for all this, I know that there are better times ahead, and I’ll be leaving Lyon at least partially recharged.


So what can I say about the landscape of the past week? Well, to be honest, because I’ve been following the roads, which almost always follow the path of least resistance, it has been pretty bland. I passed over two low mountain ranges (Monts du Forez and Monts du Lyonnais), crossed the Loire, and went through a few picturesque little towns (Thiers especially is worth a mention, though it felt a bit like The Prisoner – I couldn’t find the road out!). I suppose there’s only two incidences of particular interest. The first was on Wednesday evening (4th August). I got to a village called Ste-Foy-L’Argentiere and really had no energy left, so searched around for somewhere to camp. Found a park and was about to pitch when I noticed two guys watching me. Instantly knew that something was amiss. They came over and asked if I was going to sleep there, I said yes and they got pretty vocal about it. They then went and sat on a bench in front of me and just stared at me. I didn’t want to give up my ground, so I decided to sit there for twenty minutes to see if they’d go away and also to give myself time to think about my next move if they didn’t. I thought if it got nasty, my walking stick Balderic would even up the numbers. However, I didn’t know my exits and whether they’d call in more people if a confrontation arose, so in the end I decided I’d have to leave. It was getting dark by now and there really wasn’t anywhere else to pitch in the village, so I went to a nearby bar and asked if there was a hotel in the area. Turned out the only place with rooms was a run-down bar on the other side of the village. When I got there it was closed, but I saw a light on so I knocked on the door and an incredibly fat, incredibly hairy man opened the door. He showed me up to a room with no lock, there were wires hanging out the wall, and the neon light outside my window flickered. It was a bit like staying in a Tom Waits song. Still, in three weeks that was the first problem I’ve had finding a place to put up the tent, so that’s pretty good going. Things like that are bound to happen. There will be difficult situations, but in a way, I enjoy the challenge. And increasingly, I’m adopting the Billy Pilgrim maxim: so it goes.


The second thing is pretty hard to explain. Yesterday after lunch, I was walking along a pretty remote country road when I happened to look up and see a bird flying really unsteadily towards me. I ducked out of the way and it landed with a thump in the middle of the road. It was an owl. I don’t know much about owls, but it was definitely from the gigantic side of the family. Seriously, its wingspan was about the same as my arms. It just sat there and I just stood there, and we were staring at each other, probably both unsure what to do next. I took a step forward and he started hopping away, trying to take flight. I realised he was injured, but didn’t know what to do. Do the French have something like the RSPCA? I couldn’t just leave him there. A car came whizzing around the corner and I waved it round frantically. And all the time, the owl sat there, his neck twisted around in that hideous way they are capable of, with those huge unblinking orange eyes fixed on me. He kept on trying to fly, until he hopped off the road into the thick undergrowth of the embankment. He was completely stuck. Every time he moved, he just dropped further down the steep embankment, until soon he was beyond my reach. But still, he looked at me. I felt dumb and useless, like when you’re making stupid noises at a baby and its just looking at you, and you suddenly realise that you are making stupid noises and start to feel a bit of a plum. In the end I just turned and left. The whole incident probably only lasted five minutes, but for the next couple of hours my head was thick with blue fog. Seeing such a majestic creature hobbling along like that was so pathetically comic, and knowing there was nothing that I could do, well I don’t think there have been too many events that have sucked the joy of life out of me so rapidly. Last night I dreamt that the owl laid eggs in my hat.


Sorry if this all sounds miserable. I am still really happy and definitely know I have the Right Idea (cheers D-Rob). In a week I should be in Geneva, though the small matter of the Jura Mountains stands between me and Switzerland. I can’t believe that I’ve nearly walked across the whole of France!!! It’s a real buzz in the base of my pants just to think of it. Also, please chip in a few quid when you get the chance. I’ve nearly raised a grand so far, which is close to halfway to my target. And please do send me messages, on here and by text. It makes more difference than you’ll ever know. Sorry for the tone of this message, I’m sure I’ll be full of it again next time I get in touch

Paul x