Ready to go…

Training’s over, bag is packed. The biggest challenge so far is to stick to the bare minimum as carrying all this for 300 miles could be a bit tricky.

The shell, symbol of the pilgrims to St James

Training was fun. Along the way, I came across beautiful landscapes, whacky buildings, caught up with friends, saw cemeteries in Vietnamese fields, translated for Spanish artists, talked with priests, children and dogs… and waved at many narrow boats along the canals.

In a few days the big adventure will be starting. I’ll be walking from Santarém (Portugal) to Santiago de Compostela…450km and this is if I don’t get lost. Wish me luck and follow me on my travels.

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Training for the Camino : aiming at 35km

35 km is the longest stretch I’ll have to do in one day.

Let’s try this around Stoke-on-Trent while testing the sandals at the same time.

The first 10km are walked along the canal bordered by factories, fields and crossed by bridges of all ages

Old bottle kilns, remnants of a thriving pottery industry
When you reach this fancy bridge, the canal goes through a more rural yet residential area

After Stockton Brook, I didn’t know if the canal would carry on for much longer, but it did… after a couple of kilometres, I went to visit some friends for a couple of hours.

After my visit, it was time to head back home, but I decided to take the country road : tarmac and common, one of the few moorish areas left in the area full of dogs and horses’ prints.

Upon arrival to town, I got some chips from the Chinese takeaway… that I ate all the way home.

DigBeth the crossroad of history.

When I moved to the UK, back in 1996, Birmingham was one of my first destinations as it was only 20 minutes on the train.

The Bullring did not exist back then and New Street station was the border between two worlds. I’ve got no pictures whatsoever from that time for two reasons. In analogue times, film processing was expensive and the area was just too ugly.

The two worlds were the historical part of Birmingham. From the station, you could walk through a shopping centre made of concrete and you reached the pretty avenue leading to the museum, or you could decide to take the other exit and ended up in a jolly good shamble of markets that had been around for ages, run down buildings and you could venture down towards the coach station and this was Digbeth or the Irish quarter as I used to call it due to its strong presence of Irish pubs used by Irish families who had certainly been there since the potato famine.

Years later, regeneration started, the bullring was built, making Birmingham a bit more visitor friendly, but Digbeth remains the same.

Same old remnants from its industrial times, Irish places and a new crowd : the young creatives who decided to give it a bit of life and colour thanks to street arts and the refurbishment of The Custard Factory where events such as Vintage fairs are held. If you need a graphic designer, you should find one there too.

Roaming the streets of Sheffield in a Domesday mission.

A previous posting was stating that, in order to train properly for my trail to Santiago I decided to take the Domesday book and visit several places listed and walk around them.

A year ago, June 2018, it was a sunny day and off I went on a day-trip to Sheffield, which used to belong to the Hundred of Strafforth. Back in William the Conqueror’s days, Sheffield already existed and its name meant “From the River Sheaf” in Anglo-Saxon.

What is now Sheffield includes Attercliffe, Grimeshou, Hallam, Wadsley and, of course Sheffield. Theses areas are now still clearly determined within the town and when you walk through you can see yourself going through several landscapes.

With 33 households and 29 gelds paid in taxes, Hallam was the biggest settlement and now is quite a posh area with a golf club, nice houses at about 5 km from the centre of Sheffield and you’d actually like to live there.

The other places in the area were small. What makes Sheffield special is that in the 19th century a cross dating back to the 9th century was found in the centre of the town and now this cross can be seen at the British Museum. Following its post industrial depressed times when steel works and factories had to close down, leaving a lot of people unemployed, the town has since been regenerated and it’s very pleasant to walk around the centre. The University also brings a young and international flavour to the area.

I cannot say the same about Attercliffe. After a very pleasant walk along the canal, I ended up in an area that reminded me of the Sheffield as shown in the film “The Full Monty”. Despite finding the area very sad and depressed, there was nothing that made feel unsafe… I just felt that I had nothing to do there. Still a few piccies though.

Grimeshou was rebaptized Grimethorpe and I really liked its parks, residential areas with an international flavour. It’s a bit hilly but it makes the walk even more interesting.

Wadsley is cute, well kept and you feel a strong sense of community among its inhabitants. I stopped there for a drink, exchanged a few words with the locals who were certainly wondering who I was as everybody seemed to know each other, and then I carried on.

A stroll in the Central Highlands, Vietnam.

As you arrive in Pleiku, you won’t need much time to notice that a lot of people look different. Although you won’t see anyone in traditional attire in that city, their features are different. This is because there is a strong presence of indigenous groups, even more in the mountains… but for today we’ll stay within a 30 km circle in the outskirts of Pleiku, starting as if you were going to the airport, but making your way towards Biển Hồ lake, Biển Hồ town and walk back down towards Pleiku with a stop at the very distinct Pleichu church.

It all started with a very long stretch along the AH17, which was not boring at all there are buildings all the ways, with shops selling food, bric a brac, birds, petrol, New Year’s decoration (Happy Year of the Pig), and then you turn into a more village like area where people live in small houses with a plot of land, a few farm animals, sometimes they run artisan businesses… and they are not used to seeing foreigners… As I walked by , I could read on their faces “What is she doing here?” Is she lost?” Sometimes they were just looking, other times they were shouting hello from their scooters and if they knew any English, we were exchanging a few words.

What really puzzled me was to find graveyards scattered about on the side of the road, sometimes in fields, sometimes in a more structured way. Some of them looked abandoned, the grass was growing between the graves. Were theses patches still being used? No idea.

And then, you reach the lake. Apparently, there is more going on during the weekend but as we were Monday, I was not bothered by visitors, just a scooter with two women on it. One of them had to step down as they reached a very worrying bridge so that the other one could get across safely.

After this, it was time to go to the village of Biển Hồ where everybody was going about their business in a very calm way, some food and drink on the side of the main roads under the curious gazes of the locals and a very boring long walk towards Pleichu with a stop for coffee in a very friendly cafe where two lovely midlle-aged ladies invited me to join their tables. We communicated as we could, the coffee tasted wonderful and I was set for the last couple of kilometres towards the church.

First of all I had to walk through a small market and then, there it was, Plei Chuet Montagnard Church , built in 2005, as empty as any other catholic churches around the world on a Monday afternoon. Although it is a catholic church, its architecture is inspired by the designs and decorations of the Jrai people, and a lot of designs inspired by nature. It is seen as a big communal house and it would be very interesting to see how Mass is conducted on Sundays. The priest live on the grounds in a separate building and all around the central square there are some small huts which were empty but are they used as offering places? Candle burning ? Do some statues go there for special celebrations? All this will remain a mystery.

The weekend when you test your bag, your shoes and your legs

From Droitwich to Ledbury with a night in Worcester

When you arrive at Droitwich Station on a Saturday morning before 10 am, it feels very deserted. Only a very quirky hairdresser’s is open. This is just because you have to walk for about half a mile before you reach the town centre.

I must admit that I was a slightly disappointed by Droitwich. As it used to be a Spa Town, I was expecting more interesting buildings, but it did not seem to be the case. The first thing you see as you arrive in the centre is a concrete building with various high street shops, and you can get very tasty toasties from the bakery. Past Victoria’s square, this is when you come across a few very Tudor Houses. The dog walkers all congregate in Lido Park, where you can walk on bridges over murky water, but this is for a good cause as they are encouraging animals to live there.

After a good tour around Droitwich, it was time to make my way towards Worcester. It’s only a little stroll, about 6 miles, mainly along the canal and across the fields. It was a beautiful weekend and I came across a lot of happy hikers, runners, narrow boat cruisers enjoying the sunshine. At regular intervals during your walk, you come across different spots and you can listen to explanations from the Droitwich canal websites. What a great idea!

As you come nearer Worcester you need to leave the canal walk and venture into the countryside until you reach Claines, primary school first and then the church with a pub and few houses around. As I arrived, people were coming out from Good Friday Mass and were wondering what I was doing in this remote part of the world. So, as you do on a Good Friday, you start talking to the vicar and you explain that you are training for the walk to Santiago, and it turns out to be that the vicar is fluent in Spanish for having lived in Spain for many years, inundates you with thousands of pieces of advice including the fact that the people from Galicia are not the most open-minded chaps in the Iberian Peninsula. What a coincidence! I suppose that’s what the Camino will look like. After a good chat, he wished me luck with the pilgrimage and off I went towards Worcester, which impressed me. By the time I was ready to have a good look at it, most shops were closed, and you could only have access to the eateries, but the place was beautiful, well kept, the people looked quite sophisticated… Well, in most cases as I won’t mention what was going on in front of pubs, and I went to bed looking forward to visiting the cathedral the day after.

Worcester cathedral is located by the River Severn. It took almost 500 years to build it, but they did a grand job. The crypt is Norman, the bays are Gothic, it’s 130m long and the tower is 62-metre-high, and you can see the remnants of the Worcester Pilgrim ; they are believed to belong to Robert Sutton, an affluent dyer who was devoted to St James . They were unearthed in 1986 but Robert Sutton lived in the 15th century and donated a lot to the Parish.

After this, back on the road, along the River Severn first and then towards the hills and Malvern, where there were some medieval scenes being enacted around the main church and you could taste the local produce: The Malvern water! Just fill your water bottle and keep on walking.

I think I’ve missed a trick when it came to going from Malvern to Ledbury, as I ended up walking mainly on the tarmac, stopping in the scenic spots where the cars parked… never mind, you can’t win all the time, the landscape was pleasant, it was very warm and once on the other side of the hills, agricultural land laid ahead and I only saw Ledbury, once I arrived there.

This was another beautiful place. I didn’t talk to anyone in the market town but really admired the well-preserved old buildings, the narrow streets, the old pubs and also the This was my last sighting as the day after, I was going back home with great memories of my first solo walk over more than one day.

The return was by train with a stop in Malvern, mainly to admire the Victorian railway station, which has apparently featured in the TV Programme The Great British Railway Journeys.

Malvern Railway Station

The testing went well, better than expected. The boots are fine, although not very waterproof on top (as tested during another outing), but we’ll manage. The weight in the bag is something to plan very carefully as I cannot carry much more than what I had, and the legs didn’t even complain. Pretty much sorted then.

Getting confused in Stoke-on-Trent

While training for Santiago, I decided I would visit some places as they were recorded in the Domesday Book, sometimes walking, sometimes cycling.

Although the Domesday Book was nothing more than a record asking the question “How much tax can we get from that country we’ve just invaded?” , it’s quite interesting at times to see how the villages were arranged within the land and how it still shows nowadays. None of this poetry in this entry, though.

Stoke-on-Trent has got many places recorded in the book and this walk covered the distance between Hanley (which doesn’t appear in the Domesday Book as non-existent back then) and Meir… About 5 miles where you come across these entries : Fenton, Longton, Normacot and finally Meir.

The interest of this walk is to see the industrial heritage and buildings dating back to the hey day of the pottery industry, and also the result of post-industrial decay until you reach Meir, a newly built area, a typical housing estate as you would see anywhere in the country.

Fenton – Old Buildings from back then seen from the graveyard

Meir turned into this Modern Art landscape for some reason.

My findings were uploaded on Instagram and little did naive me know that this would trigger quite a few comments.

Just some innocent old shops… or are they?

Actually, Abigail was not exactly the type of beautician one would go to for waxing or a facial… or was it?