Day 11 – we sail to France

What a day! But we made it to Wissant, the little seaside town some 20Km south of Calais. Wissant was a busy cross channel port until about 400 years ago when the harbour silted up and P&O moved their cross channel ferries up to Calais. The official Via Francigena therefore travels here from Calais to follow the actual footprints of Archbishop Sigeric. However there are few pilgrims who venture down to Wissant nowadays because it adds a whole day to the pilgrimage.

Our day started well. The Rolles Court B&B in Church Whitfield was a dream. Everything was perfect. The owners couldn’t have been more helpful and the breakfast was delicious. We are talking home made preserved peaches and apricots, homemade jams, croissants, cereals and scrambled eggs. Green tea of course. We enjoyed it so much that we forgot about our schedule and the need to check in for the boat by 10.10.

The walk into Dover was about 7Km and we arrived at the foot passenger terminal with just a few minutes to spare. On the way to the boat we were selected for a special security search which yielded nothing of interest.

Once aboard you realise that nothing much has changed on the cross channel ferry in 40 years. Except most people now use the channel tunnel or they fly. Why does anyone inflict this punishment on themselves? But I have so many happy memories of crossing the channel in the 1970s that it is now more about nostalgia than efficiency for me.

The English Channel can be very rough. I once took a small ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe when I was about 18. An elderly couple invited me to join them for tea and we took a table in the restaurant as the small boat headed out of the harbour. Soon a waiter appeared with a teapot and warned us that the sea was a little choppy and advised us to keep hold of the pot. It was good advice. The sandwiches and cakes held firm but keeping tea from spilling on a pitching boat is an art that my seasoned companions had mastered. “Don’t you get seasick?” I asked. “Not at all” they replied. We were the only ones in the restaurant and when we emerged we saw people throwing up on the deck and even down the stairs.

French immigration welcomed us in Calais (but for how much longer?) and then our troubles began. Channel ports are not designed for disembarking foot passengers and we went the wrong way across hectares of unused car parks and kilometres of very high security fencing. Eventually we were forced back to the starting point and out into Calais itself. Paul had expressed an interest in seeing a statue in the town and so we trekked around town until we found it. We then returned again to the harbour to start our 20Km walk to Wissant at 4pm.

When I first proposed the Wissant diversion some months ago, I imagined a promenade des Anglais like Nice or Beirut lined with bars and pretty girls in bikinis. There were certainly many kilometres of golden sandy beaches stretching into the distance. But there wasn’t a single bar between Calais and Wissant. It was windswept and the only interest was watching the P&O ferries passing offshore and disappearing into the mist.

We soon realised that walking on the beach was too painful for those with good feet. For me, the suffering was beyond any words that Apple can suggest. We took to the hills and the GR145 footpath which climbed every mountain and forded every stream until it brought us back to the beach.

Wissant is the kind of place that makes Frinton look trendy. We got lost looking for our B&B. Having missed lunch we knew that our only chance of dinner would be to arrive by 7.30pm. But the clock struck 8.49 pm as we finally arrived. We downed an unpleasant Belgian beer and then collapsed into our room.

If it wasn’t so awful I’d spend a week here to recover but if it’s possible we’ll continue the fun tomorrow with a 26Km walk to some place I’ve forgotten which is just 12Km inland from Calais. Rome is getting farther away by the day.

We arrive in Dover just in time for the 10.10 check in.

The statue that Paul wanted to see

12 comments on “Day 11 – we sail to France

  1. Roger Clarkson

    Well you’ve finished your stroll through the home counties then 😉 and your French walk so far sounds like the Seven Sisters but why did you choose an unpleasant Belgian beer?
    I used the ferry last year and remember seeing miles of security fencing left over from the immigrant ‘Jungle’.

    • I didn’t choose it but I think it was all they had. Lots of weak beer is better than a little strong beer after a tough day. There certainly is a geological connection to the Seven Sisters

  2. Hi there Tim,

    Keep up the faith – don’t let those blisters get you down.

    Calum and I are very much enjoying your blog – it’s my morning treat when I first turn on my computer.

    Many thanks for keeping us so well entertained with your witty writing.

    • Hi Vikki & Callum I know I’ll walk through them eventually. Once they start it’s difficult to clear them. Glad you’re both along for the pilgrimage

  3. Sophie Greig

    Dad I’ve never been prouder of you, not for walking to Rome, but because you seemily slipped The Sound of Music lyrics into your blog. Well done 👍🏼

  4. Huguette

    Hi Tim Welcome in France even your first day was’nt fantastic
    And your feet ? Do you know ” le baume du pèlerin ” it’s a medicine which you finds at abbaye or monasters or on the web . It ‘s very efficiency François uses it for the same problème. And have you socks with double skins TYLO , to prevent the blisters
    Good luck to you and your friend.
    sorry for my english mail

    • It’s great to be in France and we have lots of time to travel through your beautiful country. We will stay in a monastery soon and I’ll look out for the medicine of the pilgrim!
      C’est génial d’être en France et nous avons beaucoup de temps pour voyager à travers votre beau pays. Nous resterons bientôt dans un monastère et je ferai attention aux médicaments du pèlerin!

      • Huguette

        Coucou Tim
        Didier s est trompé pour la marque des chaussettes double peau. Le nom est THYO. Tu peux les trouver sur amazon et intresport également. Tu penses arriver quand à Bar sur aube?
        François est à Chaumont le souci est qu il ne peut sortir comme il veut de l école de gendarmerie. Il a une voiture sur place et pourrait te rejoindre. Bon courage

      • salut Huguette
        merci pour l’aide et les conseils. J’utilise des chaussettes doubles Icebreaker. J’espère que mes pieds s’endurciront bientôt. un long chemin à parcourir.

  5. Margot Knight

    Hi Tim et al,
    I’m enjoying your blog and feel like I’m there !!! I’m back home now, and just as well. I can’t imagine doing those sort of distances especially with blisters. Trust you are all having the best time – Margot

    • Hi Margot, it’s great to hear from you. Paul and I were both hoping you’d be able to join us for awhile. Keep with us!

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